The five second food rule will bring down empires and you

Friday, 2 August, 2013

Once food, accidentally, hits the floor, that’s it, out it goes. Around here anyway, but that’s not always the case elsewhere it seems. Some people are happy to invoke the “five second” rule, a belief more than anything by the way, that it takes germs and other nasties six seconds to transfer from the floor to whatever they were eating.

The origins of this superstition are still being debated; some credit Genghis Khan for first implementing the 12 to 20 hour rule for eating food from the ground (no, seriously; later generations would refine the timing down to the modern five seconds) and others credit the fast food industry as a means of reducing food waste, though both seem improbable.

It seems unlikely that Genghis Khan, as founder of the Mongol Empire, one the world’s largest ever, could have had anything to do with such thinking.

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The ghost in the machine, do TV shows drive paranormal beliefs?

Friday, 5 November, 2010

When it comes to belief in the paranormal, supernatural phenomena, and superstitions, there is no one-size-fits-all way of determining who believes – adherents hail from literally all walks of life – though if the prevalence of such themes in TV shows is anything to go by, there is certainly an increasing interest in the subject.

There is no hard data on how common it is to believe in the paranormal, which Bader and co-author Carson Mencken define as beliefs or experiences that are not fully accepted by science or religion. But trends in television programming offer a sense that there is a widespread interest in mystical phenomena that is becoming more common. In the 1970s and 80s, Bader said, there were maybe one or two paranormal-themed shows in the TV line-up. Today, there are dozens, including programs about ghost hunters, psychic kids, haunted homes and even possessed pets.

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Unlucky numbers worth even less during economic downturns

Thursday, 17 June, 2010

Car licence plates consisting of “unlucky numbers” can have some financial value, so long as the economy is doing well, according to recent research which studied the prices paid for car number plates in Hong Kong over the last 12 years.

While plates that included the number four – considered an unlucky number by the Chinese – had less value than those sporting an eight – considered lucky – they still did well when sold at auction.

Their value however declined sharply during periods of recession or slowdown. Plates including an eight continued to sell for good prices though, whatever the state of the economy.

As well charting the monetary value of superstitious beliefs, Ng’s study was also able to record how the economic influence of superstition varies according to ongoing macroeconomic circumstances. For instance, the presence of a “4” in a plate always drops its value, but during bad economic times, the diminution in value is greater. On a day that the stock market had dropped by 1 per cent, the ‘cost’ of having a “4” in a standard 4-digit plate was increased by 19.9 per cent. ‘A “4” is bad,’ the researchers wrote, ‘but it is even worse in bad times.’

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Calculating the chances of being lucky: the odds are quite low

Monday, 7 June, 2010

There’s good news and there’s bad news, luck – both good and bad – is random, and cannot be manipulated, forced, or coerced… no matter how often we wear that “lucky” t-shirt of ours.

Gerald Busald, a math professor at San Antonio College who studies the lottery, discourages people from playing the lottery because of poor odds and diminished returns over long payment periods. For those who insist on playing, “I always discourage people from playing the same numbers, because then they feel they have to play, or else it might just happen [that those numbers come up] and then they’ll be mad about not playing.” He added, “If you teach statistics and you’re really superstitious, then something’s wrong.”

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Invest on the day of a blue moon but not a total solar eclipse

Friday, 24 July, 2009

Apparently many share investors are very superstitious, and tend to refrain from buying shares, and making other investment decisions, on days when there is an eclipse.

Using four broad indices of the U.S. stock market, we uncover strong evidence in support of our superstition hypothesis in four distinct ways. First, the occurrence of negative superstitious events (i.e. eclipses) is associated with below-average stock returns, which is consistent with a diminished buying pressure coming from the superstitious.

So… as I see it, buying shares or stocks on the day of an eclipse might be a good idea as you could be buying at a lower price, which you can later sell at profit once the superstitious investors have returned to the market and buoyed it back up again.

Via Marginal Revolution.

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The superstitious value of a watch versus its sentimental value

Thursday, 14 May, 2009

Does saving a watch worth £10 that was a gift from your partner, rather than one valued at £1000 from a burning house, make you superstitious or sentimental? Or both?

Lots of people responded, with the results showing an even split between the two options. Of course, it seems completely irrational to save the £10 watch and thus let £990 go up in flames. So why did so many people pick this option? Well, they might argue that the £10 watch has sentimental value, but what exactly does that mean?

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Third time’s a charm and the origins of third time lucky

Monday, 26 January, 2009

The phrase “third time lucky” seems to take root only in the expectation that success is due the third time something is attempted, rather than having any association with the Christian holy trinity, supernatural forces, or even the case of convicted murderer John “Babbacombe” Lee who survived three hanging attempts in 1885.

Quite simply two shots at something isn’t enough while four is over doing it.

It seems more likely that it is just a folk belief that, having had setbacks, we ought to persevere and not give up. This is enshrined in the phrase “try, try and try again”. Three seems to be the right number of times to try. Two isn’t enough but four is too many. Think of every time you’ve seen a drama in which a character tries to unlock a door with an set of unfamiliar keys. The first key fails, the second key fails – it is always the third that works.

The fixation remains with the number three though. While on one hand we like to think luck will favour us the third time around, there is also the belief that bad luck is served in triple doses, “these things happen in threes”…

PS: “third time’s a charm” with virtually the same meaning as “third time lucky”, is the more common phraseology of the term in the US.

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