Recently an acquaintance smugly told me that the “Close Door” buttons on elevators don’t work — they are just there as a psychological sop to make passengers think they actually have some control.

I didn’t contest this assertion — I had heard it before and wasn’t certain one way or the other. I was deeply suspicious, however — it smacked of the bogus rumors and conspiracy theories you hear all the time, or at least sounded like one of those things that everybody knows that just aren’t true.

So I was happy to learn today that Cecil Adams of The Straight Dope has already (in 1986) dealt with this critical question in his thorough and inimitable manner — he even interviewed representatives of the Otis elevator company and various elevator repairmen. See “Do ‘close door’ buttons on elevators ever actually work?

The upshot is that the “Close Door” button is not an evil conspiracy to manipulate people into pushing a fake button hoping for a reward like Pavlov’s dogs. That’s not to say that they always work — they could be broken or disconnected at the request of the building’s owner. Here’s another reason Cecil gives as to why these buttons don’t always seem to work:

The button really does work, it’s just set on time delay. Suppose the elevator is set so that the doors close automatically after five seconds. The close-door button can be set to close the doors after two or three seconds. The button may be operating properly when you push it, but because there’s still a delay, you don’t realize it.

AB — 9 September 2011