Do bad things come in threes? Friday the 13th strikes again

November 12, 2009

LIMA — We seem to have made it through two without any catastrophic results. Stands to reason the third Friday the 13th of the year won’t wreak any havoc either.


Well, Alfred Cohoe says so.

“I will promise that there are no greater number of bad things going to happen on Friday the 13th than any other time of the year,” he said.

Cohoe, a clinical psychologist and Ohio Northern University professor, said study after study has shown that Friday the 13th is just another day — chalk up a loss for triskaidekaphobia.

“It doesn’t bother me,” said Delphos resident Gina Wallace. “I guess some people think it’s a bad day, but it’s all what you believe in.”

And there are plenty of people who do believe otherwise, some to the point of the day making or breaking major plans.

“I work for a doctor who does surgery and delivers babies, and some people don’t want to have their baby on that day,” Wallace said.

For those folks, this year probably hasn’t been a good one. The 13th has fallen on a Friday three times — in February, March and today. The next time that will happen is 2015.

But in an age of information, MythBusters and skepticism, what has kept the fear alive?

Cohoe said superstitions are self-reinforcing for those who believe in them. Avoid the black cat, throw some salt over the shoulder and stay away from those ladders and a worried mind is eased.

“Every time you give in to a superstition it makes you feel better, so that ensures you’ll continue to do it. And that’s why it’s so hard to get rid of superstitions,” he said.

Though the date is a minor annoyance for most — or no annoyance at all for the people who didn’t even realize the date was coming up — for some, the 13th can become a full-blown phobia.

“There are people who will stay home and not do anything. That’s very uncommon, but it does happen,” Cohoe said.

Of course, 13 doesn’t have to be an unlucky number.

“Nothing bad ever happens to me on Friday the 13th. Sometimes I feel like I have better luck on Friday the 13th. Maybe it’s because everyone else is so paranoid,” said Austin Castro, a University of Northwestern Ohio student.

When something bad does happen though, it can make a superstition seem real.

Psychologists call that illusory correlation — basically, you remember things you believe in and you forget the things you don’t.

“It’s just like people believing they have a dream that foretells the future,” Cohoe said. “Well, you have thousands of dreams in your lifetime and there are going to be coincidences.”

Consensus: No reason to panic over Friday the 13th.

Now, about 2012...