Researchers have found that the collective unease over Friday the 13th—a Friday that falls on the 13th of the month—affects even those who aren't superstitious.
How superstitious are you?
The extreme belief in the superstition that Fridays that fall on the 13th are unlucky may only affect some, but the superstition itself is deeply rooted in our cultural consciousness. However, the superstition logically doesn't make any sense. Why would there be any more misfortune on a particular day that falls on a particular date than on any other day and date?
Of course, superstition and logic don't always mix. However, this doesn't stop many from believing in superstitions, and even those who aren't superstitious are affected. “Even if I don't actively believe, just that fact that Friday the 13th exists as a known cultural element means that I entertain it as a possibility,” says behavioral scientist Jane Risen.
So how should we deal with our superstitions?
How do you hide from bad luck?
Even if you don't consider yourself to be superstitious, it's still possible that you will associate certain fortunes and misfortunes to specific, unrelated factors. For example, you might stub your toe or forget your cellphone at home on Friday the 13th. On any other day, you may be irritated by these occurrences, but you won't think there's anything more to them. If they occur on a Friday that just so happens to be the 13th of the month as well, however, they tend to be more remarkable.
This, of course, boils down to a matter of perception. If something bad happens on a day widely believed to engender misfortune, then you perceive that that day may indeed be bad luck.
Thus, you may think that belief in this superstition is illogical. However, when bad luck strikes on that day, it may fuel this belief a little bit more.
In many cultures, there are certain rituals that are believed to ward off bad luck. Knocking on wood when you express the possibility of misfortune happening is one such ritual. Throwing salt over your shoulder, spitting, or carrying a lucky object are also similar rituals. Risen's research shows that there may be more to these rituals than mere superstition.
Throw salt over your shoulder to make yourself feel better about possible outcomes.
According to Risen and her colleagues' findings, rituals believed to ward off bad luck reduce the anticipation that something bad may happen. After all, if you believe that these rituals work, then there's no reason to believe that misfortune may still happen. The researchers designed a series of experiments in which they asked participants to do something risky—”tempt fate”—then perform superstitious and non-superstitious avoidant actions. Their findings showed that when people believe that they have “jinxed” themselves, performing these superstitious rituals reverse the perception of the jinx.
These rituals may provide a sense of order or control in an unpredictable world. They make it seem like there are rules that create order, and it you play by these rules, nothing bad will happen.
Thus, if Friday the 13th makes you nervous, all you'll need to do is to double check that everything is in order so you can put your mind at ease.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!