The reason for this popularity may trace back to an unexpected source, according to a new analysis: In fact, zombies may be helping us cope with the aftermath of World War II.

“We use fictional narratives not only to emotionally cope with the possibility of impending doom, but even more importantly perhaps to work through the ethical and philosophical frameworks that were in many ways left shattered in the wake of WWII,” Stanford literary scholar Angela Becerra Vidergar said in a statement.

Vidergar, a doctoral student in comparative literature, analyzed mass disaster stories in pop culture for her dissertation. She found that mass disasters such as the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki opened up new realizations about the human capacity for violence, casting doubt about the upsides of modernized society.

“Instead,” Vidergar said, “we are left with this cultural fixation on fictionalizing our own death, very specifically mass-scale destruction.”