Friday, May 13, 2016

Friday the 13th and Confirmation Bias

       Today is Friday the 13th. One of those infrequent times when the dark forces of calamity all unite to give you a hard time. Or harder than usual, at least. Are you thinking about staying in bed today with cookies and Netflix so as not to tempt fate? Perhaps you have good reason. Maybe some bad things have happened to you on past Fridays falling on the thirteen. My advice is not to sweat it. In reality you are not any more the unfortunate soul on Friday the 13th than any other day. Here are a couple reasons why.
       Let us get the first, most obvius one out of the way. There is nothing particularly special about Friday the 13th. Thurday the 12th and saturday the 14th happen just as frequently. Yet the fear of Friday the 13th as an unlucky day—paraskevidekatria—has persisted since the 19th century. I could go into the murky history of why Friday and the number 13 have often been associated with calamities in Christianity and norse mythology, I am going to leave that for an article linked at the end of the post. I will instead focus on rational explanations.
       The second and probably most important reason Friday the 13th is considered unlucky is confirmation bias. In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions, leading to statistical errors. Simply put, confirmation bias is the act of drawing a conclusion then searching for evidence to support it instead of drawing a conclusion from evidence gathered first.
       How about an example. You are sitting at your desk working on a random Friday. You may curse lightly, but you will probably simply pick up your pen and resume writing without attributing any significance to the incident. Now assume the same accident happens on Friday the 13th. You might be inclined to blame dropping your pen because of the unluckiness of Friday the 13th
       Accidentally dropping your pen is the same act regardless of the day on which it occurs. You only attribute it to the bad luck of Friday the 13th because of the preconceived notion bad things will happen to you on that day.  It is all in you minds, folks. Go out there and have a great day, and stay every bit as safe as you would any other day.

References:

The Origin of Friday the 13th as an Unlucky Day
Friday the 13th: Where Does It Come From and Why are We Still So Superstitious About the 'Unluckiest' Day?
Confirmation Bias from Science Daily

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