Superstitions: It’s all a numbers game

Ladders, shattered mirrors, black cats and four leaf clovers. We have all grown up surrounded by various superstitions that we have either chosen to believe or reject.

They are superstitions that we have created or have come from tradition. Many of these superstitions involve numbers, all with differing motives, habits and old decisions that have caused us to form these superstitions surrounding the numbers.

We all vary in our superstitions; for many people numbers are picked at random or are associated with events such as birthdays, holidays or meaningful dates in life, while for others superstitions run deeper as we elevate numbers to play a more crucial role in our lives.

In western society the numbers we create our superstitions around are often overlooked. But when we look at other cultures and compare these superstitions to our own, a better picture is created of how certain numbers can be significant to everyday life.

In Chinese culture for example, the number four is considered unlucky due to its similar pronunciation with the word “death.”

The reach of the number is surprisingly extensive, with examples such as high-rise buildings omitting the fourth floor and companies skipping a ‘fourth edition’ when producing a new product.

This phenomenon is known as “tetraphobia”, or simply the fear of the number four.

And in western culture the most infamous unlucky number is 13. There are a range of theories and folklore tales surrounding the number including theories from Christianity, numerology and Viking mythology.

Known as “Triskaidekaphobia”, even in modern day life the number 13 has certain cultural implications. The most well-known of these is ‘Friday the 13th’, which is rich in theory but rarely understood.

The film ‘Friday the 13th’ is the best example of the superstition in practice, as the film brought a new meaning to the date. And even now the superstition stillcosts businesses money, with certain airlines refusing to include a seat with the number 13 for fear of upsetting customers.

On the flip side, lucky numbers are also rich in history with lots of cultural differences in how numbers are perceived.

In Russia, even numbers are considered unlucky and odd numbers are considered lucky. For instance, a gift of flowers must always have a bouquet consisting of an odd number of flowers.

And in Japan, the number eight is considered as a lucky number. As the Kanji (character) for ‘prosper’ or ‘wealth’ is pronounced in the same way as the Kanji for eight.

Though these superstitions may sound strange to different cultures, the science and psychology behind superstitions has unearthed some positives behind the behaviour.

Researchers at the University of Cologne created a series of four tests involving athletes, after being inspired by athletes performing their warm-up rituals.

The researchers thought that the superstitions of the athletes encouraged them to believe that their performance was related to their superstition in some way.

In an experiment the researchers either took away an athlete’s ‘lucky charm’ (ranging from a stuffed animal to a wedding ring), or left the athlete with the lucky charm before the test.

Results from the experiment indicated that volunteers who were left with their lucky charms did better than athletes whose lucky charm had been taken away, as their confidence was improved by their chosen lucky charm.

But whether superstitions are scientific or not, they still play a role in our day to day lives and can hold tremendous importance to us individually.

When including lucky and unlucky numbers as superstitions and after looking at the cultural differences in beliefs, we can understand their importance.

So whether you’re trying to pick numbers for the lottery or trying to decide an important date for an event, the process behind our decisions serves as an important reminder of how superstitious we actually are and of the confidence that our superstitions can offer us individually.

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