Why do we enter a haunted house? Listen to a true crime podcast? It’s a mystery being resolved by research on “the science of scary play and morbid curiosity.” Athena Aktipis and Coltan Scrivner explain in a riveting essay that will make you appreciate a good scare.

This might sound like the kind of place nobody would ever want to be in, but every year millions of people pay to visit haunts just like Dystopia. They crowd in during Halloween, to be sure, but show up in every other season, too. This paradox of horror’s appeal—that people want to have disturbing and upsetting experiences—has long perplexed scholars. We devour tales of psychopathic killers on true crime podcasts, watch movies about horrible monsters, play games filled with ghosts and zombies, and read books that describe apocalyptic worlds packed with our worst fears.