Friday the 13th: Hope you have a lucky day!

13/09/2013  -  8.58

Dr Coral Dando, Reader in Applied Cognition

Friday the 13th: Hope you have a lucky day!

Does Friday 13th worry you?

Well, Paraskevidekatriaphobics have a morbid fear of Friday the 13th, which falls at least once a year, and sometimes three times a year.

A phobia is a debilitating anxiety disorder, acquired through learning, marked by a persistent fear of an object or situation, which sufferers will go to great lengths to avoid. Phobias are common in the general population, with approximately 1 on 10 suffering from mild phobias, and 1 in 500 suffering from severe disabling phobias.

Phobia’ is an umbrella term encompassing both specific and social phobias.

Paraskevidekatriaphobia is an example of a specific phobia. Other examples of specific phobias are Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia - fear of  ‘666’, and Spheksophobia - fear of wasps.

The term paraskevidekatriaphobia was first coined in the early nineties by Dr. Donald E. Dossey, an American psychotherapist specialising in phobias, and is based on the Greek words paraskevi ('Friday') and dekatria ('thirteen') with -phobia as a suffix to indicate 'fear'. It has been estimated that 800 to 900 million dollars is lost to US businesses alone on this day because people will not go about their normal business.

Phobic responses are real and include physiological changes in the body - for example increased heart rate and blood pressure, as well as tensing of muscles. Often a panic state develops, including muscular trembling and shaking, rapid, shallow breathing, and feelings of unbearable anxiety and dizziness.

Behaviourally, the person will stop or redirect whatever activity he/she is engaged in, then try to escape from or avoid the phobic object or situation. Cognitively, a phobic person at a distance from the object or situation can recognise it as posing little actual danger. However, upon approaching the object or situation, fear rises, and the estimation of risk increases.

So, where does the fear of Friday 13th come from? Well, it would appear that no-one is quite certain. Numerous theories have been put forward over the years.

For example, Friday as the day of Christ's crucifixion, and since the 14th century's ‘The Canterbury Tales’ Friday has long been considered an unlucky day. The ancient Egyptians believed that the 13th stage of life is death. In numerology the number twelve is considered the number of completeness, as reflected in the twelve months of the year, twelve hours of the clock, twelve gods of Olympus, twelve signs of the zodiac etc., whereas the number thirteen is considered irregular, transgressing this completeness.

There is also a superstition, thought by some to derive from the Last Supper, that having thirteen people seated at a table results in the death of one of the diners.

Whatever its roots, Friday 13th is a real concern to many people. In 1993 an article was published in the British Medical Journal investigating the relationship between health, behaviour and Friday the 13th in the United Kingdom. The study reported that, despite the fact that fewer people chose to travel on Friday 13th, there were significantly more hospital admissions due to accidents than on other Fridays!

However, the Dutch Centre for Insurance Statistics reports that in the Netherlands there are fewer accidents, fires and thefts on Friday13th than on other Fridays because people are more careful or just stay at home.

Many people with phobias do not need treatment, particularly if the phobia is a mild one, and find that avoiding the object of their fear is enough to control the problem. However, those who suffer from severe phobias often seek treatment, and the good news is that phobias can be treated.

For more on treatments, and general phobia information, see the NHS website: