Rabbits revisited

Thirteen months ago I blogged about the superstition of saying ‘rabbit’ on the first of the month. I thought it was worth reblogging as it’s yet another first of the month today …


 

What was the first word you said today?

Mine was “rabbit”.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve tried to make sure “rabbit” was the first thing I said on the first day of each month. I’m not alone in this; many others say the same, or something similar such as “white rabbits” or “rabbit, rabbit, rabbit”. It’s supposed to bring good luck for the rest of the month.

It’s a superstition, of course, but an old one. According to Wikipedia its origin is unknown, though there is reference to it being said by children in 1909 in the journal Notes and Queries.

So, why has this superstition stood the test of time?

Nowadays, like me, most people are probably doing so out of tradition or habit. But, presuming things don’t get established for no reason at all, how did evidence arise for the power of “rabbit” uttering?

From a stats point of view, there are a few things to consider.

Confirmation bias. We tend to give more weight to information that backs up our expectations. We’ve said “rabbit” so we expect luck. So, when the ‘lucky’ event happens it ‘proves’ the power of what we said! And, if it doesn’t? Well, confirmation bias would tell us it is to ‘make up’ for any extra luck we thought we had in the past or might get in the future!

The number of opportunities for a ‘lucky’ event to happen. Few people have lives in which nothing good seems to happen for weeks on end. So, with at least 28 days each month, we’ve got plenty of chances for one of the days to have the lucky event to make saying “rabbit” appear to have been worth it.

And, of course…

Correlation does not necessarily imply causation. Just because two things are associated does not mean one has caused the other – though it may have done. We need to think about the plausibility of there being a causal link. Is it really possible that I have made October 2013 a lucky month for me because I said “rabbit” a little after midnight?

Of course, if my ticket wins the EuroMillions lottery jackpot this month … !

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