The Psychology of The Button

On April 1st this year, Reddit users accidentally launched a gigantic social experiment to assess the pyschology of the button. Using a button that will stop a timer counting down from 60 to 0. Anyone can stop the timer once, from anywhere in the world and the point was that the longer you waited before clicking, the more bragging rights you earned.

While this button seems pointless and like a good way for hundreds of people to waste an hour or so of their time, it actually showed us a lot about the psychology of delayed gratification. It is similar to an experiment conducted in 1972 on children by Walter Mischel. He placed children between the ages of 3 and 5 in a room and given a marshmallow, with the instruction that if they could wait to eat it until he came back, they could have 2 marshmallows upon his return.

Children are not very good at waiting, but the ones who did turned out to be better planners and better students while even into adulthood the children who hadn’t waited were still worse at controlling their impulses even after years. Psychologists have associated this with the Reddit button in terms of the hot and cool logical and rational system of our bodies. In some people it is easier to stimulate the impulsive cool system whereas in others, the logical cool system overrides this.

The button Reddit produced is just a reminder of how different some people are, while some cannot control impulses, other people think something through to the very end and have better self control.