"We believe in bad luck," explains psychologist and skeptical investigator Michael Shermer, author of the 1997 book Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. He says that our ability to find patterns in masses of sensory data-a crucial skill that helped humans to survive and thrive-also tends to spot patterns in random noise, where none actually exist.
"Unfortunately, we have patternicity, but we aren't equipped with a good baloney detector."
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Indeed, British psychologist Peter Bentley, author of the 2009 book Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day, says that bad luck seems to afflict people who believe in it.
He notes, for example, that studies have shown that people who believe in bad luck will have more accidents on Friday the 13, traditionally perceived as an unlucky day.
"I think those that believe they suffer from chronic bad luck, are almost certainly those people who have a very ingrained mindset about how their life is going," Bentley writes in an email. "Some people learn from mishaps, they see the positive, even turn them into amusing stories. Others dwell on their perceived misfortunes, and start to perceive everything as yet another example of bad luck. Where one person may see missing a bus as an opportunity to take a look around a nice store, another may turn the experience into a depressing mope about how nothing in their life ever goes right."