Day 13 — Very Superstitious… Friday 13th

I’m taking a break from the usual podcast today to briefly talk about superstitions, as it’s the first Friday 13th of the year.

Superstitions occur worldwide, and persist despite time and advances in technology (Torgler, 2007). While some of us might associate Friday 13th as an unlucky day, different cultures can have many lucky or unlucky numbers or days - or believe in supernatural forces - or even the movement of the stars to help them make decisions about their lives. Good luck charms or actions that induce bad luck (e.g, having your path crossed by a black cat) can influence our behaviours; there’s numerous studies on athletes and their levels of anxiety in relation to superstitious rituals, for example (Foster, Weigand, & Baines, 2006).

While there may be people who have paraskevidekatriaphobia — a fear of Friday 13th — what they might be experiencing is a cultural trend of concern about the day (hardly helped by pop culture horror movies about serial killers!)

One of the authors of a 2004 journal article in BMC Public Health, called “Females Do Not Have More Injury Road Accidents on Friday 13th,” pointed out that most studies dealing with the day focused on statistical data, such as accidents and stock exchange results — without looking at the direct relationship between belief, superstitions and behaviour. “

A study from May 2008, “Belief in ghost month can help prevent drowning deaths: a natural experiment on the effects of cultural beliefs on risky behaviours” by Yang, Huang, Janes, Lin and Lu looked at the influence of one of the superstitions of ‘ghost month’, which involves “the traditional belief, many of the wandering ghosts are of those who have drowned or died from traffic accidents and whose bodies were not recovered for funerals. Therefore, water-related activities, especially recreational activities, are the most-avoided activities in ghost months.” I know that studies that investigated correlations between traffic accidents and Friday the 13th were demonstrated to be inconclusive, yet it appears that:

With regard to the possible mechanisms linking belief in ghost month and the reduction in the number of drowning deaths, risk compensation would be a better explanatory mechanism than psychological stress. Unlike short term fear or worry about the unlucky number “4” or Friday the 13th, anxiety about ghost month lasts for 29 to 30 days, and the believer would certainly adapt some kind of control measures.

I know from Vyse’s (1997) work that superstition are not limited to traditional cultures and you can find these sorts of behaviour internationally — but if you have a look at the paper that reflects the above Asian superstitions and more, called ‘Conscious and Nonconscious Components of Superstitious Beliefs in Judgment and Decision Making‘ in The Journal of Consumer Research (April, 2008), they conclude that no matter where in the world you are:

“… superstitious beliefs have a robust influence on product satisfaction and decision making under risk,” the researchers write. “However, these effects are only observed when superstitious beliefs are allowed to work nonconsciously.”

Select References:

Foster, D. J., Weigand, D. A., & Baines, D. (2006). The effect of removing superstitious behavior and introducing a pre-performance routine on basketball free-throw performance. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 18, 167–171.

Torgler, B. (2007). ‘The determinants of superstition’. The Journal of Socio-Economics, 36, 713–33

Tsang, E.W.K. (2004). Toward a scientific inquiry into superstitious business decision-making. Organization Studies, 25(6).

Woo, C.K., Horowitz, I., Luk, S., & Lai, A. (2008). Willingness to pay and nuanced cultural cues: Evidence from Hong Kong’s license-plate auction market. Journal of Economic Psychology, 29. (35–53).

Vyse, S. (1997). Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.