Is 13 really that unlucky?

The number 13 has been known for centuries to be “unlucky” but why? How can a number be attached to so much superstition and meaning. Several buildings either don’t have a 13th floor or 13th room. Some people even go the distance of not traveling on the 13th day or hosting important events on this day because of the fear that something will go wrong. There are several reasons why people believe that 13 is unlucky, stemming from religion to science. Those who are very religious may associate 13 to the 13th individual who came to the last supper. Judas was the 13th person and the person who went against Jesus. The number 12 has much significance in our everyday life. There are 12 months in a year, the hours in a day are easily divisible by 12, 12 inches in a foot, 12 days of Christmas, the list goes on and on. The number 13 is the imperfect number that falls behind the “perfect” number. Most people who believe this superstition grew up around other people who believe it. By hearing the message and association between bad luck and 13 peoples superstition develop even farther. The beliefs are cemented by occasional events that take place on the 13th day that are less than fortunate. Individuals who experience the most traumatic experiences or bad luck might even develop Triskaidekaphobia which is the fear of the number 13. Like many other phobias this in turn can lead to anxiety and other psychological effects. Depending on why someone believes 13 is bad luck, this superstition could date all the way back to the 1890s.

There are certain events that occurred that may contribute to the belief in this superstition. For example, the Apollo 13 was a space mission that was supposed to land on the moon. On April 13, 1970 there was an explosion that halted the mission and they had to return back to Earth. There may have been people following this mission with a preconceived idea that this mission was going to fail simply because of the mission number. A more specific unfortunate event that occurred was in England. There was a 13th year old teenager who was struck by lighting on Friday the 13th. He was said to been struck at 13:13. Fortunately, he was able to make a full recovery. Things like these happen and people feel no reason to believe that the number 13 is not bad luck. So they avoid it at all cost and become afraid of it. However, 13 is just a number and these events most likely would have happened regardless. It was just a coincidence.

An obvious cognitive contribution to this belief system are patterns. In our brain, it’s a lot easier to assign things to each other when we see patterns or sequences that frequently occur. We, as humans, evolved through symbols and its in our nature to use those associations in our everyday life. It strengthens when we connect with other people who believe and see the same patterns. They aren’t necessarily misinformed but are forming connections in places that weren’t meant to be.

The most notable influencer to the 13th belief is the media. The media uses those outlets to their advantage. For example, the Friday the 13th movie series with the killer main character, Jason. They have made over 10 movies and millions of dollars off of a fear that they took to the next level. Even though people may believe this superstition on their own there are groups of people that also believe that have a bigger impact on society. Some hotels, airports, and hospitals don’t have 13th floors. For a hospital to not have a 13th floor someone of higher power must also believe that 13 comes with bad luck which would make my belief even stronger.

The belief that the number 13 is bad luck or an unlucky number is essentially a superstition. Superstitions thrive on confirmation bias. Once you have a belief and your mind is set on this idea its hard to change your mind. Its even harder because subconsciously we look for evidence and memories that support them rather than those that refute them. Days that bad things happen on will just be unfortunate times but if something was to happen on the 13th day its because of the number 13. People with strong believes would most likely say that if it wasn’t for the association with 13 the bad thing wouldn’t of happened at all.



‘Unlucky’ 13–It’s All a Matter of Psychology

What’s so unlucky about the number 13?

Why Is 13 Unlucky?

Why Do People Think the Number 13 Is Unlucky? Let’s Talk About Triskaidekaphobia

21 thoughts on “Is 13 really that unlucky?

  1. I am always fascinated by peoples belief that 13 is an unlucky number. Like you said, this belief is driven by a lot of confirmation bias. If we wanted to we could look for evidence that any number is unlucky. For example, there are bad things that happen on the 15th all the time, but we are creating associations between bad and this number. What do you think is the reason people got stuck on the number 13, is it because of the biblical references?

    • Yes, for some people it was biblical with Judas as the 13th person at the last supper. I also read that 13 has significance to Egyptians because they believe that life has 13 stages and the 13th is the last resulting in death. The fear of Friday religiously stemmed from the fact that this was they day Jesus was crucified.

  2. I always find this idea kind of funny because when I was a little kid I used to tell people that 13 was my lucky number just to hear their reaction. My family has always believed in lucky numbers but never unlucky numbers, strictly because my grandpa had numbers that he would always play in the lottery and he always won. Maybe that was more of an availability bias because we remember the times he won and not lost, but I always thought it was cool that he was a “lucky” guy.

  3. I felt so funny when I first heard that. Since I come from a different culture, 13 has no any special meaning in my cultural and this belief reminds me that how culture could influence people that much.

  4. I had not heard of a few of the reasons that you brought up why people are superstitious, the Judas example was a new one for me. Anyway, I’ve always wondered why Friday the 13th is the fateful day, what makes Friday such a doomsday? Why not beware of Tuesday the 13th?

    • I mentioned in a previous comment that Friday was the day that Jesus was crucified so those who believe this because of religion might have this reasoning. Ironically, in the Greek world Tuesday is actually said to be unlucky because it was the day the Fall of Constantinople occurred. I think that if we did enough research we could find cultures and reasons why people believe every day of the week is unlucky.

  5. I found this post to be really interesting just because of the fact there are so many people out there who swear by the idea that 13 anything is a cause for alarm. Friday the 13th is a great example that is brought up all of the time and yes, there might be freak instances where you make a mistake or become unlucky on that day, but how do you compare that to every other day? People make mistakes almost every day. Some mistakes can be very minute and some can be very large, but I think this is all due to the availability heuristic when it comes to performing these mistakes on the 13th day of any month or Friday alike. People like to find other reasons for why they make mistakes ALL the time. I think movies and other forms of media help as well for bringing this belief into view. Overall I think the idea of being unlucky or lack of performance in general is largely altered depending on the individual. Some people find luck in situations that others might deem unlucky or the opposite! Thank you for this post!

  6. The only number I have ever heard is unlucky because it is connected to the bible was the number 6 because 7 is kind of seen as a holy number. The only negative stigma that I have heard of the number 13 was through movies such as Friday the 13th. I think the only reason people connect bad events to the number 13th is because they already have this built in fear. So, they just focus on the bad things that happen to them (confirmation bias).

  7. Hello!
    I liked your topic for your blog post! I have definitely heard of this theory, especially with movies like Friday the 13th! When reading your article, I too thought it must be some coincidence. When you gave the example though of the girl being struck by lightning, that was a crazy situation!! If that isn’t a wild coincidence i dont know what it. I think for the most part numbers are just numbers but people are always going to be suspicious when these coincidences occur. I definitely though, think just for safety, I wont plan any special dates on Friday the 13th (lol).

  8. To my brother’s dismay, he was born on February 13th, so all growing up we would joke about something terrible happening on his birthday. Just the idea of having an unlucky day is fascinating. In terms of superstition, do you think those that believe in this ideology think there is a greater sort of entity or force that ensures that 13th is unlucky? What do people think is the mechanism behind unluckiness besides just “something bad happened on this day in history?”

    • That’s actually my birthday as well and I’ve never had a fear of something happening on my birthday because of the 13th. This is probably just due to the fact that there has never been anything that’s happened bad or tragic that would stick with me. I was, however, born during a blizzard and have been told multiple stories about that day from my family. Because of this I say that it is always going to snow really hard on my birthday just because from what I can remember it always does.

  9. This was a really cool post! I’ve heard about how 13 was an unlucky number but never really thought about why some people thought that. I think it’s interesting that some people really feed in to this superstition, while other people embrace it. It immediately made me think of Taylor Swift and how 13 is her lucky number. It’s interesting to me how some people fear the number and others embrace it.

  10. Besides confirmation bias, I believe the stigma behind the unluckiness of the number thirteen has a lot to do with availability bias. Because the number 13 is known to be an unlucky number, people are more likely to remember the bad experiences they have had related to the number than all good/normal experiences combined. For example, I think back to a really bad night I had in high school on a Friday, February 13th. After that experience, I began to fear Friday the 13th because of this sole event. I eventually forgot about my fear, as it has no legitimacy and there is no point in fearing a day like every other day.

  11. I have heard that the unlucky 13 theory comes from a religious belief because of Judas, as you mentioned, because of his betrayal at an important religious, historical figure. Along with other religious beliefs, Jesus’ crucifixion was claimed to have occurred on the 13th. Many biblical references refer to negative experiences such as the story of the Jews in Egypt where they said 13 times against God in the exodus of Egypt and Psalm 13 discussing evil and corruption with the circumcision of Israel also occurring in the 13th year. With a more scientific point of view, the average healthy woman is said to menstruate about 13 times a year, witches’ coven has 13 members, a person is cursed if they have a name with thirteen letters, Persians scientific belief that scholars found in the 13,000th year, chaos would ensue and pin evil against good.

  12. Unlucky number 13 is such a common superstition that is well known all over the world. I would call myself a superstitious person on certain things, but this one never affected me or made me avoid things with the number 13. I think confirmation bias plays such a big role in this superstition, that those believing in it keep looking for evidence that confirms and strengthen the thought of number 13 being unlucky.

    • I completely agree with you and found myself thinking the same thing. I have some strange superstitions in my own life that I have developed but the number 13 has never been one of them. More than likely this is due to the fact that I haven’t had enough events in my life connect with 13 to make me think about it. But I have a feeling after reading this post I might suddenly notice the number a bit more!

  13. I think the most persuasive reason that makes 13 unlucky is from the Bible and then connected the bad things with the number 13. It commonly happens that when you don’t like a number, you will attribute all the bad things to it. In China, we have the same superstition that 4 is a bad number because it pronounces the same as “death”, and people will try to avoid the number 4 when they are choosing the house. These unlucky number is different base on the culture, and I still think it is only a superstition.

  14. The unlucky number is highly related to culture. In China and Japan, 4 is both the unlucky number because it sounds like “death.” However, sometimes 4 is also a meaningful number because according to the ancient book, there are 4 orientations, 4 divine beasts…Also, 9 is a mysterious number because we are using decimal all the time, so 9 is the extreme number.

  15. This was a super interesting read for me. I was aware that the number 13 was viewed as unlucky, but I was unaware the exitent it goes. I am surprised that buildings avoid a 13th floor. I feel the media has contributed to this theory with its constant movie connections. Thus making people believe it even more. I like how you included unfortunate events that occurred on the 13th day of the month. Numerology is fascinating to me because diffrent cultures tend to have meanings behind diffrent numbers. Also some people believe that numbers hold meaning that goes far beyond our imagination. I once watched a great video on YouTube about numerology and how people have estimated certain deaths with looking at there birthdates/times.

  16. I think it would be interesting to pull up a record of injuries, accidents, and catastrophes that have happened on any Friday the 13th, and then compare these to other days–obviously we would not see a difference, but I wonder how many minds this would actually change?

  17. I have always been fascinated in the number 13, because I always see that hotels do not have a 13th floor and when a Friday the 13th rolls around people think chaos is going to happen on that day. I never knew the background story on the number 13 on why it was bad luck and it was very interesting. To think so many people have a superstition that a number can cause bad things is extraordinary. Confirmation bias does play a big role in this belief as people only pay attention to bd things that happen the revolve around the number 13 then anything else.

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