You might remember the story of the Tromp family which captivated headlines a few weeks ago?
The five family members simply vanished without a trace in late August, sparking a search that spanned across two Australian states for six days.
And when they were all found or returned home, the rumours, theories and allegations started.
No doubt you’ve heard them all – “they were on psychoactive drugs”, “they had financial troubles”, “they were mentally disturbed” or “they were caught up in a cult”.
But experts have a different theory and it all comes down to what they describe as a “shared mental break” or “shared delusions”.
You might be wondering how they’ve come to that conclusion?
Well, medical sociologist Robert Bartholomew claims the Tromps fall victim to what he calls “small group panics”.
“Most episodes involve normal, healthy people who, as a result of a series of unusual events, grow paranoid and literally scare themselves after growing convinced that their lives are in imminent danger,” he wrote in his blog on Psychology Today.
He claims fatigue and fear cause members of a group to become emotionally unstable.
“Within this atmosphere of fear, members begin to redefine everyday objects and events in a new light,” he said.
“It is within this context that a car backfiring, may be perceived as a gunshot, or rustling in the bushes is mistaken for a monster or hostile gang member.”
And it turns out the Tromps aren’t the first family to make headlines for simply disappearing.
Mr Bartholomew pointed to several other cases in the past 60 years, including that of an Australian family who claimed they survived an extra-terrestrial adventure in 1988.
You might remember that case, when the Knowles family thought there were being stalked and nearly abducted by a UFO they claim they say floating in the sky above the Nullarbor.
Well, Mr Bartholomew believes the Knowles case is very similar to the Tromps – that they were all affected by a combination of stress and fatigue and were ‘simply scaring themselves’.
While the Tromp family hasn’t said much about their disappearance, other than they thought they were being followed and it was a “family matter”, the rest of Australia has been talking.
Which raises the question, do we have a right to judge this family for whatever happened to them?