This Is How Most People Feel About Aliens, According to Research

Aliens. We haven't come across any real ones yet (probably), but it's only a matter of time before we do (maybe). Imagine reading a breaking news headline tomorrow about the discovery of extraterrestrial life. How would you react? Would you retreat to the bunker? Invite the squad over for an E.T. costume party? Just carry on with your day in indifference? According to research, most people are on the same page about the possibility of alien life. Are you?

Extraterrestrial Friends

More often than not, aliens are portrayed as menacing humanity destroyers in TV and movies. The media isn't fooling anyone, apparently. According to new research, most people aren't cowering in fear at the thought of the real deal. In fact, most people feel pretty positive about finding alien life. Who wouldn't want Marvin the Martian as a little buddy? On February 16, 2018, three new studies on the matter were presented at the annual meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In the first study, Arizona State University psychologist Michael Varnum and his team analyzed news articles about events in the past 21 years that alluded to the possibility of alien life. Specifically, they looked at 15 articles about three events: the 1996 discovery of possible Martian microbes, the 2015 suggestion of an alien megastructure near Tabby's Star, and the 2017 discovery of Earth-like exoplanets around TRAPPIST-1. They used special software to scan the language for positive and negative sentiments, and found that there were three times as many positive emotion words as negative emotion words.

In Varnum's team's second study, people were told to write two hypothetical responses to the news that we've just found microbial alien life: one from them personally, and one from humanity as a whole. The result? Celebration! The responses contained five times as many positive words as negative words. In the third study, the team gathered the reactions of 500 people to two different newspaper articles. One group read a New York Times article saying that ancient microbial life had been found on Mars. The other read a different New York Times article claiming that scientists successfully created life in the lab. The microbes-on-Mars group used 10 times as many positive words as negative words in response to the news. They were also more enthusiastic about their article than the group that read about creating life in the lab, suggesting that discovering life on another planet would be a bigger reason to celebrate than creating life on our own planet.

Come on In, the Earth Water's Fine!

All in all, it seems humanity is on board for the aliens to make themselves known. "If we came face to face with life outside of Earth, we would actually be pretty upbeat about it," said Varnum. "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." However, the studies only looked at how people would respond to the discovery of microbial life, not necessarily intelligent humanoids. What about a ten-foot-tall being in a flying saucer, or an intelligent "Arrival"-esque gas blob from space? We guess only time will tell.

Trying to find the aliens? Check out Jim Al-Khalili's "Aliens: The World's Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Do Aliens Exist?

Written by Joanie Faletto March 22, 2018

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