If you’re thinking ‘new year, new career’ but don’t want to be chained to a desk, allow Stuff’s daily news podcast Newsable to assist. In a week-long series of special summer episodes, the team chats to people with jobs or workplaces outside the ordinary. Today, Mark Miller, from Monash University in Melbourne, who studies people’s brains to find out what makes them tick.

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the most popular genres of film to watch was horror.

During a time of huge stress and uncertainty, you’d think people would crave something a bit lighter. But Mark Miller from the Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies at Melbourne’s Monash University, said this was not the case.

And there’s science behind why.

Miller spoke on Newsable about why people love scary movies and video games. He said they make us think about how we might react in uncomfortable situations in real-life. As an example, he said Contagion was a popular film during the pandemic.

He said research had created a new view of the brain as a “prediction machine.”

“One of the main jobs of the brain is to figure out how the world is, so that it can make good predictions about what happens next.”

He said horror movies “play a really special role”… “They can help us get in touch with possible scenarios that we might find that are important to us, but we don’t have much experience with.”

Through watching horror movies at the cinema, or playing violent video games, Miller said: “You’re learning about your own reaction to challenging situations. You are learning to model and predict your own emotional reactions to being under pressure or under duress, in a safe, scary situation.”

Listen to the full interview here.

Newsable is Stuff’s daily news podcast, wrapping up what’s worth talking about in a short package every weekday morning. Make sure to like and follow us wherever you get your podcasts.