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1. Inside the Brain: Hacks 1–12 > 11. Why People Don’t Work Like Elevator Butto...

Why People Don’t Work Like Elevator Buttons

More intense signals cause faster reaction times, but there are diminishing returns: as a stimulus grows in intensity, eventually the reaction speed can’t get any better. The formula that relates intensity and reaction speed is Pieron’s Law.

It’s a common illusion that if you are in a hurry for the elevator you can make it come quicker by pressing the button harder. Or more often. Or all the buttons at once. It somehow feels as if it ought to work, although of course we know it doesn’t. Either the elevator has heard you, or it hasn’t. How loud you call doesn’t make any difference to how long it’ll take to arrive.

But then elevators aren’t like people. People do respond quicker to more stimulation, even on the most fundamental level. We press the brake quicker for brighter stoplights, jump higher at louder bangs. And it’s because we all do this that we all fall so easily into thinking that things, including elevators, should behave the same way.


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