When the pandemic first started, the psychological thriller “Contagion” became the most-streamed movie. And it started a trend called “outbreak entertainment” – in which people couldn’t get enough of movies having to do with viral pandemics and disease.

So, why watch scary movies when we’re basically living through one of the scariest times, ever? Because in stressful times, people tend to gravitate toward entertainment that reflects – or helps us work through – feelings of fear.

Scientists at the University of Turku recently studied this. To see if watching scary movies reduces real-life fear, the researchers had adults watch the top 100 scariest horror movies ever made, while hooked to MRI machines. The result: People were much less stressed when the movies ended.

Lead researcher Dr. Matthew Hudson says it’s because when movie characters face frightening situations, we know WE aren’t in danger. And when the movie has a happy ending, we’re able to release anxiety from our own lives. We get to experience what we’re afraid of ion a safe way.

Watching horror movies also helps us bond with others. Because shared experiences, especially traumatic ones, create feelings of community, whether we’re seated side-by-side, or texting about it afterward.