Things You Thought You Knew #10: Are Black Cats Bad Luck?

What You Thought You Knew: A black cat crossing your path could cause bad luck.


What You Didn’t Know: Whether you’re superstitious or not, the fact remains that many people believe that black cats cause bad luck. It’s why they’re popular Halloween symbols and why they’re the least adopted animals at rescue shelters. But it seems like the whole superstition may be a little overplayed.

In ancient Egypt, black cats were seen not only as acceptable but even as praiseworthy, so harming one was considered an extremely serious offense (of the same degree as, say, murder). The Japanese consider black cats to be good luck, and even in Europe and early America where the bulk of black cat myths existed, sailors still believed that a black cat on the docks boded well for their voyage. In fact, a black cat on the ship was extremely good luck, especially if it approached you on deck. If you threw it overboard…well, you might as well have been tying your own noose, they say.

But I’m not really interested in the superstitions about how witches can turn into black cats at night (the prevalent opinion especially during the times surrounding the Salem Witch Trials). So instead, I wanted something more factual. In what percent of people does the presence of a black cat immediately precede “bad luck” (negative consequences)?

As it turns out, bad “luck” happens to the best of us, and the kitties don’t have anything to do with it. In a statistical analysis of black cat encounters immediately prior to a coin toss, each person tested did report a slight drop in favorable outcomes (choosing the correct side), but the average success/failure rate was still within that person’s normal range, as proven by prior testing.

To ensure that the study wasn’t too biased, the participants were then also exposed to WHITE cats (thought to bring good luck) crossing their paths. Again, the average success/failure rate changed, but it still remained within the person’s average. It is interesting to note, however, that the black cat made the rate go down slightly and the white cat granted success for the first few throws after its appearance. In both cases, averages returned to normal quickly.

It seems, then, that the cats had nothing to do with the averages, which would have been fluctuating anyway, regardless of whether or not cats walked in front of the participants.

Now You Know: That there is no statistical proof that black cats cause negative outcomes.

Things You Thought You Knew #6: Is a Coin Toss Really a 50-50 Chance?

What You Thought You Knew: If you’re guessing heads or tails in a coin toss, both parties have an equal chance (50%) of winning because a coin has only 2 sides.


What You Didn’t Know: If you choose heads and then begin the toss with heads facing up, the odds shall be ever in your favor for a coin toss. Strangely enough, the odds of winning aren’t 50-50 — they’re about 49-51 in favor of the side that you place face-up at the beginning of the toss. Students and Standford University had a blast flipping coins under high-speed cameras all day for a few days to figure this out. Indeed, I also sat in my room flipping coins for a while, and I was impressed to see that the term “fair coin toss” is a misnomer after all.

There are, however, even more unfair object-flipping odds — coins are, to be honest, pretty fair anyway. But toast…now that’s another matter.

We all know that if a piece of buttered toast falls, the odds of the buttered side hitting the floor are virtually 100%. Such is life.

We’ve also always been told that cats always land on their feet, even if they flip in the air.

The real question, then, is what would happen if you strapped a buttered piece of toast to the back of a falling cat?

Now You Know: To pay attention to which side of the coin is facing up at the beginning of a coin toss, as the chances aren’t 50-50. (Oh, and you also know not to combine buttered toast and cats, or you may create a black hole of some sort.)