Superstitions often affect human behavior in unpredictable ways. Some people do not want to be discharged from a hospital on certain days, others do not want to be operated on a certain day or occupy a certain number of beds because they think it will bring them bad luck. In fact, some American builders skip number 13 in their buildings.
According to the Center for Stress Management and the North Carolina Phobia Institute in the United States, a total of 25 million Americans change their behaviors on Friday the 13th due to their superstitions. They avoid taking flights and even moving for shopping. The cost of this fear? Nothing less and nothing more than 800 million dollar lost in business.
In 2002 in Finland was carried out a curious study which appeared in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The main objective of Doctor Näyhä was to compare the deaths that occurred in traffic accidents on Friday the 13th with other Fridays of the year; For this, he took a period of 26 years, analyzing the information obtained according to the gender of the victims. What were the results obtained? Women had more traffic accidents on Fridays 13. How many more? 63%, compared to men who show only 2%. Why? Probably because most women are more anxious and superstitious than men. Really shocking!
Another, larger study was conducted in conjunction with the Sussex Department of Public Health in the United Kingdom; The objective was to examine the relationship between health, behavior and superstitions related to Friday the 13th. For this, were compared the patterns of driving and shopping on these days, as well as the accidents that occurred. To do that, were analyzed the number of vehicles circulating, the number of buyers in supermarkets and the number of hospital admissions due to accidents.
Results? On Friday the 13th people make their purchases normally but… decreased considerably the number of people who risk traveling on the highways, while paradoxically, the number of hospitalizations due to road accidents increased by 52%. Is staying home the solution?
With these data, it is not surprising that has already been coined a term to call morbid or irrational fear on Friday the 13th: parascavedecatriaphobia. It is certainly preferable to eliminate the phobia than to name it.
However, these are nothing more than results of epidemiological studies, which often deny themselves as can be seen below.
Another study carried out in Germany, in relation to the Insurance Statistics Center, reveals that the number of traffic accidents, fires and robberies on this apparent fateful day was lower compared to the rest of Fridays. Why? Perhaps because people are more careful about what they do, use less the highways or perhaps because the superstition of Friday the 13th is also a cultural problem.
Then Professor Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California, San Diego studied 47 million death certificates and found that mortality increases on the 4th of each month. Higher numbers than on Friday the 13th. He called this strange phenomenon: The Baskerville effect, in honor of Conan Doyle’s famous mystery novel. What could be an attempt of explanation? The death rates for Asians or their descendants were remarkable and … for Asians, number 4 turns out to be what Friday the 13th is for Westerners!
What lesson can we extract from these statistics? Is Friday the 13th really a weird day?
Surely not but, be careful! If we have a superstition related to this number, this simple fact will probably condition us a bad day. Superstitions condition our thoughts and these, in turn, our behaviors and the things that happen to us. Let us remember Thomas’s Theorem: “What we think is real, will be real in its consequences.”
If we start a day thinking that only unfortunate events will happen to us, we will probably be very nervous, our attention will be scattered and our cognitive resources will be diminished. Thus, at the end of the day it will not be strange that something negative has happened to us.
When we face another Friday the 13th we must remember that superstitions are unfounded and usually irrational ideas.
Näyhä, S. (2002) Traffic Deaths and Superstition on Friday the 13th. American Journal of Psychiatry. 159:2110-2111.
Smith, D. F. & Denmark, R. (2004) Traffic Accidents and Friday the 13th. American Journal of Psychiatry. 161:2140.
Exadaktylos, A. K.; Sclabas, G.; Eggli, S.; Luterbacher, J. & Zimmermann, H. (2002) Facts and myths about Fridays, Good Fridays, the number 13 and the phases of the moon in the Swiss capital. Clinical, medical & Health research. September.