As we use technology to reach out to other life forms in the universe, successfully contacting them has so far been elusive.
However, if humans were able to interact with aliens we would do so with an open mind and minimal fear, according to a report published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
“If we came face to face with life outside of Earth, we would actually be pretty upbeat about it,” said co-author Michael Varnum, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University. “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.”
The team conducted three separate studies to gauge how humans would handle meeting aliens.
In the first, the researchers examined language in newspaper articles about previous potential discoveries of other life forms. Through the work, they aimed to evaluate the nature of our response to encountering aliens by analyzing reactions using a software program that quantifies feelings, emotions, drives and other psychological states in written texts.
The articles in the first study focused on the 1996 discovery of possibly fossilized Martian microbes; the 2015 discovery of periodic dimming around Tabby’s star – believed to demonstrate the presence of an artificially created “Dyson sphere;” and the 2017 discovery of Earth-like exoplanets within the habitable zone of a star.
Language in these articles showed significantly more positive than negative emotions, the team found.
In a second study, the researchers asked more than 500 participants to write about their own potential reactions and humanity’s hypothetical response to news that alien microbial life had been discovered. Participants’ responses were also significantly more positive than negative, both when evaluating their own reactions and humanity’s as a whole.
“I would have some excitement about the news,” one participant said. “It would be exciting even if it was a primitive form.”
In the final study, the team presented 500 other participants with past new articles on scientific discoveries and had them write about their reactions. The participants were separated into two groups. The first group read an article from The New York Times on possible evidence of ancient microbial life on a Mars meteorite. The second group read an article from the Times detailing the claimed creation of synthetic human-made life.
Participants had significantly more positive than negative emotions in their responses to the claimed discovery of extraterrestrial life. This positive reaction was stronger in response to reading about alien life than human-created synthetic life.
“This discovery shows that other planets have the ability to have life on them,” a participant said. “It’s a very interesting and exciting finding that could be only the beginning.”
In unpublished findings that will be presented Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Austin, Texas, the team analyzed recent media reports on the possibility that the interstellar ‘Oumuamua asteroid might actually be a spaceship.
Once again, they found more positive than negative emotions, suggesting that we may also react positively to the discovery of evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe.
Varnum said that “taken together, this suggests if we find out we’re not alone, we’ll take the news rather well.”
The report was published Jan. 10.