How will humanity react to news of an alien discovery?
If humanity does indeed have a close encounter of the third kind, it is likely to be more of an ET-style “be good” experience than a “game over” one.
Research published in Frontiers shows that humanity is more likely to have a positive response than a negative one. “Across these studies, we found that reactions were significantly more positive than negative, and more reward vs. risk oriented,” researchers from Arizona State University wrote.
Though much of Hollywood has focused on finding intelligent life forms in movies such as “Independence Day,” “E.T.” and “Aliens,” it’s more likely that the discoveries will be smaller in size, perhaps microbes.
“Some scientists, including Ramin Skibba, have suggested that the discovery of any extraterrestrial life, even in microbial forms, may be ‘earth-shattering’,” the researchers wrote in the introduction. “Other experts, including scientists such as Christof Koch, Guy Consolmagno, and Aaron Gronstal, have suggested that the discovery of extraterrestrial microbial life will have little in the way of societal or psychological impact.”
In an interview with The Guardian, Professor Michael Varnum, who is one of the authors of the study, said that microbes would probably be the first sign of life we find, if anything is found at all. Varnum, along with Jung Yul Kwon, Hannah L. Bercovici and Katja Cunningham are presenting their findings at the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas.
Varnum and the other researchers performed the studies and came up with their conclusions by analyzing 15 media articles written at the time of three discoveries over the past several years, as well as NASA’s 1996 announcement of a Mars meteorite that yielded evidence of primitive life. To this day, NASA’s 1996 has resulted in years of ongoing controversy, according to Space.com.
The other events that were used in the studies were the 1967 discovery of pulsars, which were initially thought to be potential extraterrestrial broadcasts, the 1977 Wow signal, the 2015 discovery of periodic dimming around Tabby’s Star and the 2017 discovery of numerous Earth-like exoplanets in the habitable zone of a star.
In addition, the researchers looked at the responses of 500 participants to a hypothetical announcement that microbial life had been discovered.