Humans will actually react pretty well to news of alien life, scientists believe

Humans would be “pretty upbeat” if they came into contact with alien life, according to scientists.

Their new research is based on an analysis of the language used in newspaper articles about discoveries that raise hope about the possibility of extraterrestrial life, as well as experiments involving more than 1,000 volunteers.

Michael Varnum, study author and assistant professor at Arizona State University in the US, said: “If we came face to face with life outside of Earth, we would actually be pretty upbeat about it.

“So far, there’s been a lot of speculation about how we might respond to this kind of news, but until now, almost no systematic empirical research.”

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In their pilot study, Prof Varnum and his colleagues looked at three news stories – the discovery of possibly fossilised Martian microbes in 1996, the 2015 discovery of dimming around Tabby’s Star 1,280 light-years from Earth – which at that time was thought to indicate the presence of an alien megastructure – and the discovery of Earth-like exoplanets in the habitable zone of a star in 2017.

According to the researchers, the language in the coverage of the events showed “significantly more positive than negative emotions”.

They also conducted experiments involving two groups of participants.

In the first scenario, around 500 people were asked to write about their own hypothetical reactions to an announcement that alien microbial life had been discovered, while the second experiment involved an additional sample group of more than 500 people who were presented with past news coverage of scientific discoveries and asked to write about their reactions.

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According to the researchers, the participants’ responses also showed “significantly more positive than negative emotions” when contemplating their own reactions, as well as responding to the hypothetical discovery of alien life.

Prof Varnum made similar observations while analysing recent media coverage of the possibility that the interstellar Oumuamua asteroid might actually be an alien spaceship.

He said the findings show that “taken together, this suggests if we find out we’re not alone, we’ll take the news rather well”.

The results are published in the journal Frontiers In Psychology, and analysis of reactions to Oumuamua were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Texas.

 

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