Michael Matza, Inquirer Staff Writer

POSTED: Tuesday, January 1, 2013, 8:00 AM

For sufferers of the nation's most popular superstition, the arrival of 2013 opens the door to an annum of angst.

Triskaidekaphobia - the fear of 13 - is a dread so common that some buildings don't label their 13th floors, some workers fall "sick" every Friday the 13th, and some passengers reschedule a flight if their only choice is a seat in the 13th row.

For Margaret Downey of Pocopson, Chester County, a self-styled "treatment nurse" with the campily named Friggatriskaidekaphobia Treatment Center, 2013 is an opportunity to "poke a little fun" while "easing anxiety through education."

"I went to Fresh Market in Concordville the other day, and my bill came to $13.13," Downey said Monday in an interview about 13 hours before the start of the New Year. "The cashier said, 'Oh, my goodness, $13.13! Do you want to buy something else?'

"I just handed her my business card and said, 'Come to one of our parties. You are way too superstitious.' "

In addition to referring serious sufferers to authentic doctors for mental-health follow-up, the organization that Downey founded in 1993 hosts spoofy anti-superstition parties designed to gently poke fun and help people with their fears.

Friday the 13th, Part I


The Daily Courier 1/12/2012

The second Friday of January, April and July fall on the 13th day of the month this year.

For some, those dates are scant more than coincidence. For others - particularly those afflicted with friggatriskaidekaphobia, the clinical term for fear of Friday the 13th - they herald disconcertion and, in some cases, paralyzing fear.

"Basically, what we're talking about is people who have phobias or fears, and there are a couple of different theories about that," said Al Garbagnati, a psychology professor at Yavapai College.

One hypothesis that explains fears and other behaviors is the biological model, Garbagnati said.

In short, some people may be born more fearful or prone to develop fear than others because of genetics.

"Many people who have children point out that there are real differences between them, even as babies," Garbagnati said. "Some are just way laid-back and easygoing - you could drop them on their head and they'd giggle - while others are highly reactive to everything."

So, loosely applied, people who are easily scared may have a predisposition to fear of things like Friday the 13th.

Another prevalent theory is the cognitive model, Garbagnati said. The simplified explanation is that thoughts and associations create experiences.

"When it comes to Friday the 13th, it's most likely anticipatory," Garbagnati said. "It's probably somebody who has seen the horror movies (of the same name), or who hear it's unlucky. When that person thinks about all the possible things that could happen, there's a physiological stress response, which is related to the fight-or-flight response."

That's your body kicking into overdrive so you can vanquish or escape whatever stimulus you perceive as a threat, Garbagnati said.