Friday, March 13, 2009

Paraskevidekatriaphobia: Do You Have It?

It’s called paraskevidekatriaphobia: a morbid or irrational fear of Friday the 13th. It's believed that as many as 25 million Americans will change their behavior today because of superstition: They’ll stay away from shopping malls and won't set foot on airplanes. The cost of all this fear comes close to $800 million per day in lost business, according to the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in North Carolina.

So what’s the truth? Is Friday the 13th hazardous to your health? Are you better off staying home today? I’ve spent the last few years studying who lives and dies in all kinds of everyday crises. When it comes to Friday the 13th, there’s some good news, some bad news and one thing you can definitely do to improve your chances.

It's actually safer than an average FridayOn the bright side, a recent study suggests that Friday the 13th is actually safer than the average Friday. Dutch researchers with the Center for Insurance Statistics looked at traffic accidents, fires and thefts and found there were fewer incidents on Friday the 13th than regular Fridays. Do people drive and behave more carefully on Friday the 13th? Or do they just stay home, avoiding black cats and ladders? “I find it hard to believe that it is because people are preventatively more careful,” a Dutch statistician explains, “but statistically speaking, driving is a little bit safer on Friday 13th.”

Nothing to fear but fear itselfOn the dark side, a Finnish study in 2002 found that women have a 63 percent greater risk of dying in traffic accidents on that date. Simo Nayha, the Finnish researcher, believes that fear causes them to crash. “It is not inconceivable that on Friday the 13th,” Nayha writes, “women who are susceptible to superstitions obsess that something unfortunate is going to happen, which causes anxiety and the subsequent degradation of mental and motor functioning.”

The Finnish study is supported by earlier data published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers examined auto accidents on Friday the 6th and Friday the 13th over a three year period. “Friday 13th is unlucky for some,” they concluded. “The risk of hospital admission as a result of a transport accident may be increased by as much as 52 percent. Staying at home is recommended.”

Bottom Line: You might want to exercise extra caution on Friday the 13th, but you shouldn’t be afraid. Indeed, if you’re fearful of anything, you should worry about other people who suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia. Avoid them on the roads. Steer clear of them on sidewalks. After all, it’s not the day or date that will get you. It’s the fear.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt would not travel on the 13th day of any month and would never host 13 guests at a meal. Napoleon and President Herbert Hoover were also triskaidekaphobic, with an abnormal fear of the number 13.

Many hospitals have no room 13, while some tall buildings skip the 13th floor and some airline terminals omit Gate 13.

The number 13 suffers from its position after 12, according to numerologists who consider the latter to be a complete number — 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 gods of Olympus, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 tribes of Israel, 12 apostles of Jesus, 12 days of Christmas and 12 eggs in a dozen.

Butch Cassidy, notorious American train and bank robber, was born on Friday, April 13, 1866.

Fidel Castro was born on Friday, Aug. 13, 1926.

The ill-fated Apollo 13 launched at 13:13 CST on Apr. 11, 1970. The sum of the date's digits (4-11-70) is 13. And the explosion that crippled the spacecraft occurred on April 13 (not a Friday). The crew did make it back to Earth safely, however.

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