It’s a superstition that most of us are familiar with and it has given rise to a number of popular films. Today will bring great trepidation for people who suffer with paraskevidekatriaphobia.
Para… what now?
Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th. The term was coined in the early 90s by Dr. Donald Dossey who specialises in treating people with irrational fears. Dossey tells his patients “when you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured”. Contrary to what popular media may have you believe, the fear of Friday the 13th is no more common than many other irrational fears, with a significant minority suffering with paraskevidekatriaphobia. However, Friday the 13th is very “marketable”, hence we’ve all heard of it.
But why Friday 13th?
Well, it’s not entirely clear. What we do know is that there has been long held superstition surrounding both the number 13 and the day Friday long before the Friday the 13th phenomenon. Various theories are commonly cited when trying to explain the origins of these superstitions including Friday as the day of Christ’s crucifixion and the ancient Egyptian belief that the 13th stage of life is death.
Thieves keep the fear alive
Those that suffer with paraskevidekatriaphobia might have their fears corroborated. Back in 2013, insurance company Swift Cover did some research that revealed that theft claims were unusually high on the three Fridays that landed on the 13th of the month in 2012. They found that claims for robberies on Friday the 13th were a surprising 36 percent higher than other Fridays in that year, and not only that, the average value of these robberies was significantly higher than the year’s average.
It’s not just thieves that are perpetuating the superstition that Friday the 13th is unlucky. In 1993 the British Medical Journal published an article investigating whether Friday the 13th is bad for your health; the results were somewhat surprising. Although there were fewer vehicles on the road, hospital admissions as a result of traffic incidents were significantly higher with an increase of up to 52%. You might be better off staying at home on Friday the 13th and waiting for the burglars!
Should you be fearful?
There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence that would suggest that Friday the 13th really does bring bad luck, but perhaps we’re just expecting things to go wrong on Friday the 13th. Professor Chris French says “because we are all aware of the idea that this is supposed to be an unlucky day, we are primed to notice anything that goes wrong on Friday 13th and (if we are superstitious) to attribute this bad luck to some mysterious malign influence”. The confirmation bias theory explains this nicely, whereby, as humans we have a tendency to take credence from evidence that supports our theory as opposed to that which does not.
“[Confirmation bias] is the peculiar and perpetual error of the human understanding to be more moved and excited by affirmatives than by negatives.” Francis Bacon
If you think that you might be a closet paraskevidekatriaphobe, then the following facts could come in handy. First, sorry people, but every year has at least one Friday 13th; second, if the first day of the month is a Sunday, then brace yourself, Friday 13th is on its way; third, some years have as many as three Friday 13ths – and 2012 was one of them!
It all boils down to one key thing. If you believe Friday the 13th to be unlucky, then it could be. Just as some prophecies are self-fulfilling, some beliefs are self-validating.