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Friday the 13th – is there any science behind the superstition?

Today is Friday 13th – supposedly a very unlucky day according to Western superstition. But why? How did the superstition originate? And is there any science behind it?

Fear of Fridays

Fridays are considered unlucky in Christianity as Friday was apparently the day that Eve tempted Adam with the apple in the Garden of Eden. Also, in maritime circles, it is believed to be very unlucky to set sail on a Friday.

Fear of the number 13

Fear of the number 13 has a scientific name ‘triskaidekaphobia’.  Historically, the number 12 is considered complete – so 12 months of the year, 12 hours of the clock, 12 times tables etc. Whereas 13 is an odd, irregular number – many people find even numbers easier to manipulate. 13 is the smallest prime number without its own times table dedicated to it. The Romans disliked the number 13 and believed it to be a symbol of death and misfortune. It is also the number of witches you need to form a coven, so therefore must be unlucky! Today, many tall buildings and hotels in the Western world are missing a 13th floor, as it is deemed so unlucky. But is there any statistical proof that 13 is an unlucky number? No, there isn’t! Numbers are numbers – humans just have irrational preferences for certain ones.

Fear of Friday the 13th

The joining of an unlucky day with an unlucky number brought about ‘paraskavedekatriaphobia’ or fear of Friday the 13th which must therefore be doubly unlucky! Fear of Friday the 13th as a day seemed to arise in the Middle Ages. It originated from the story of Jesus’ last supper when there were 13 people present on the night before his crucifixion on Good Friday.

In 1307, on Friday the 13th, thousands of the Knights Templar were arrested and tortured. Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code also popularised this as the belief of why we fear this date.

In 1907, Thomas Lawson published a novel called Friday the Thirteenth which probably also contributed to spreading the superstition.

Of course, since then we have had the ‘Friday the 13th’ American horror film franchise with 12 films, a TV show, comic books, video games and related merchandise – and the superstition has spiralled out of all control.

Social impact of the superstition

An estimated 17-21 million people in the US are affected by a fear of Friday 13th, making it the most feared day and resulting in an estimated $800-900 million lost in business, due to people avoiding their normal routines. A study in the British Medical Journal in 1993 even stated that there was a significant level of travel-related incidences on Friday 13th as opposed to any other random day!

In 1976, New Yorker Daz Baxter was so afraid of Friday the 13th he decided to stay in bed but was killed when the floor of his apartment block collapsed and he fell six floors to his death!

And in 2010, a 13-year-old boy was struck by lightning at 13:13 on Friday 13th!

You can find out more about the lightning strike if you watch this video!

Not all cultures believe in the horrors of Friday the 13th though. In Greek and Hispanic cultures, Tuesday the 13th is more worrying, as is Friday the 17th in Italy.

All scientific evidence, however, points to a belief in the Friday the 13th superstition being a greater risk to the average person, than the day itself! In other words, you’re safer not believing in the superstition. If you believe in the superstition, you may become more anxious and distracted, which could itself lead to an accident – a self-fulfilling prophecy!

When is the next Friday the 13th?

Any month that starts on a Sunday will have a Friday the 13th in it and there can be up to three in one year. In 2017, however, the next Friday 13th will be in October.

Have a good day…!