I am trying to find the right terminology or phrase to describe a type of behaviour that I often observe in the physical world, and would like to know if there is some equivalent behaviour in interface interaction.

This is often see when a person is waiting at a pedestrian crossing, and they press the button repeatedly in the hope that it would speed up the change in traffic signal (unfortunately it doesn't necessarily happen, depending no how the traffic signal controller is programmed). As they run out of patience, a decision is made to press the button for the final time(s) and if it didn't change as then they would cross because the threshold for the time that they are prepared to wait has expired..

So while the person has every intention to cross even if the signal is not green at the last attempt, they would still press the button anyway in case for some reason it does change on cue. To me it seems like a redundant behaviour because they were going to cross the light whether the signal changed or not, yet they still press the button.

I would like to know if there's some existing way of describing this behaviour, and whether there are examples observable in the user interface interactions that we come across everyday.

3 Answers 3


I think your analogy is a little incorrect: The pedestrian has every intention to cross on the correct signal but the system does not respond quickly enough for them.

Button pressing is a programmed behaviour; we learn very early in life that when we press a button something happens - usually immediately. In the case of the crossing (also with lifts) we assume (subconsciously) that either the button hasn't worked the first time or that it needs to be pressed more than once to work.

When the pedestrian finally breaks the rules for the system it is not because they intended to do so at the outset but because the system hasn't responded in they way they expected or wanted it to.

  • 1
    That last para is not totally correct. Many crossings will stay red until a pedestrian presses the button then they pick a time to go green. So a pedestrian presses the button if there is traffic around then the rad clears BEFORE the light goes green so crosses breaking the rule.
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 12:03
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    Even with that taken into account, the pedestrian does not start out with the intention of breaking the system rules but does so because the system does not respond in the way they want or expect. - The expectation is that the system knows when it's safe to cross. The pedestrian wants to cross the road as quickly as possible. A more intelligent system might be able to adapt more quickly to traffic conditions meaning that the the pedestrian would be cleared to cross as soon as there is a safe gap in the traffic - this, in turn, means that the pedestrian would not be crossing against the signal. Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 12:12
  • I was specifically referring to the case that Mark mentioned where the objective is to cross the road and breaks the rule while having the intention to cross whether or not their action has any impact on the signal status.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Apr 11, 2016 at 22:21
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    Yes, that's pretty much what I said: while the intention IS to cross the road, it is NOT to break the rules of the system. The repeated or wasted button pressing is more a symptom of the systems failure to respond as expected rather than any intention to break the system rules. Commented Apr 12, 2016 at 6:48
  • @AndrewMartin I have updated the question (sorry it was a bit late) to make the phrasing of the question consistent.
    – Michael Lai
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 4:50

I'd probably describe it in terms of "extinguishing the conditioned response". Ie in terms of the work on conditioning of Skinner. I'll add a bit more later.


I don't know if there is a proper term for it, but I'd personally think of it as two component parts.

I'd refer to the first part as a "patience threshold" - the user is prepared to be patient up to a certain point, and after that point, they have passed a certain threshold beyond which they are not prepared to wait.

The repeated pressing, if it's in quick succession could be referred to as "machine gunning" - usually a term from gaming or electronics, used to describe rapid and repeated hammering of a button or rapid pulsing of a connection. In my experience, it's usually an expression of impatience rather than an expectation that things will actually go any faster or happen more... although it may be a conditioned expectation that if you do something harder, faster or more then the result will also happen harder, faster or more.

So, I'd say that those users machine-gun the button until their patience threshold has passed, then cross anyway.

But I wouldn't call that a redundant behaviour.

I'd say that the system is actually behaving as designed - if nothing else, the machine gunning of the button and the short delay before the patience threshold is crossed both serve to introduce a short delay prior to the pedestrian walking out onto the road. This increases the likelihood that they will be seen by other road users.

On top of that, if the button is placed as they typically are in the UK, it will also mean that the pedestrian has turned to face oncoming traffic (because that's where the button is) and so they are more likely to see hazards because they are now facing the most likely direction from which they will come.

So, in the UK at least, the machine gunning and the patience threshold are not actually redundant behaviour at all - they're examples of behavioural design and defensive design working as intended to reduce the likelihood of an accident.

Of course, if the user doesn't bother with the machine gunning, or has no patience threshold whatsoever, they won't be helped at all.

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