Describing the Blue Whale Challenge, an online phenomenon where participants perform tasks with the final task being suicide, we have the following:

Dr Achal Bhagat, a psychiatrist in Delhi, told the BBC he had not encountered a single Blue Whale case, although he speaks to young people every day.

"People join narratives to explain their experiences," said Dr Bhagat, adding that is possibly why some children have said they participated in the rumoured challenge despite there being no proof of its existence.
Aparna Alluri, Why is 'Blue Whale' hysteria gripping India?, BBC News, Delhi, 2017

I don't understand what "people join narratives to explain their experiences" means, and how its relevant to the context. It seems to imply that people are making up they've participated in a Blue Whale Challenge (i.e., they join the narrative) because of some (unstated) events in their lives. The quote also indicates it holds more generally, i.e., it's not only true for the Blue Whale Challenge.

Question: What does it mean for someone to "join narratives to explain their experiences"?

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    $\begingroup$ Although this is loosely related to Psychology, the question is more about English Language Usage. This belongs on english.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 8:33
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    $\begingroup$ I know what the sentence means in the English-language sense, but what does it mean in a psychological sense? The psychiatrist is alluding to some underlying psychological phenomenon, but the quote is too succinct to give a clear indication of what it is. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 8:47
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this has any psychological basis. He is just making a statement to try and back an opinion he has on the possible existence of the Blue Whale Challenge $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 9:20

2 Answers 2


I think there is nothing formal psychiatry or psychology related about the psychiatrist's use of language when saying 'people join narratives to explain their experiences'. What he is saying is that people tend to link causally various narratives/stories they have heard of to generate an explanation without much evidence of there being an actual causal link. The joined up narratives then make an appealing sense of things having been explained.

The reason why explanations are appealing is clear upon reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Whale_(game) - there is a very disturbing event - suicide by young people, then there is something of an explanation which seems to make some sense.

See also:

Causal relatedness and importance of story events; Tom Trabasso, Linda L Sperry Journal of Memory and Language: Volume 24, Issue 5, October 1985, Pages 595-611 https://doi.org/10.1016/0749-596X(85)90048-8


I think it sits somewhere in between scapegoating (assigning the blame to another person or less often some other force) and "everything happens for a reason". It's a basic psychological need to find causality, especially for upsetting things in life. There is in fact no shortage of attribution theories in psychology, and covariation (same causes leading to same effects) sits fairly highly among them. So if one heard that X commited suicide because of the Blue Whale, and then Y commits suicide and someone else mentions Blue Whale... However, in this case it's probably more appropriate to quote another media article on the Blue Whale moral panic:

French anthropologist René Girard famously studied how moral panics ultimately derive in scapegoating. Whenever a society goes through difficult times, there is the tendency to unfairly blame an individual or a particular group for all the troubles. The collective animosity builds against these scapegoats, and very frequently, they are either killed or exiled, as an attempt to put an end to the crisis. This is the psychological mechanism at work in lynchings and purges.

[...] The Blue Whale designers, whoever they may be, are scapegoats.

The Blue Whale moral panic is far from being the first in its kind. The idea that some media product (a song, a movie or a videogame) has the power to drive mindless kids to kill themselves is quite ancient. The first version of this cultural trope goes back all the way to the 14th Century, with the famous Piper of Hamelin story. According to this legend, a piper was hired to rid a town of its rats; the piper played a melody that drove the rats away; the townspeople refused to pay, and as revenge, the piper played a melody that made the kids mindlessly walk into a river, thus being drowned. The Piper of Hamelin story is clearly fantasy, well suited for the credulous medieval mentality. The Blue Whale story seems to be along the same lines, and unfortunately, the same credulous and paranoid mentality is at work.


Listening to a song or playing an internet game will not make anybody commit suicide, unless that person already had previously strong suicidal ideation. In that case, alleged instigators such as Blue Whale or Judas Priest would be scapegoats.


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