“The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror,” HG Wells had written, while describing his narrator’s response to the invasion by Martians in his book War of the Worlds.
However, despite such frightening narrations, researchers claim that finding alien life is probably going to go down well with the public rather than fear.
Why are we searching the space to find signs of extra-terrestrials?
The prospects of life “out there” has fascinated us for centuries, but, researchers say not much work has been done to assess the response of the public whenever it is discovered, and the earlier research devoted to public’s response to a communication from the so-called intelligent aliens.
Prof Michael Varnum of Arizona State University presented the findings of the research during the conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Austin, Texas and he stated “I think the consensus probably leans in the other direction, that what we will find first – if we find anything at all – is microbes,”
To gauge public response to extra-terrestrials, Varnum and team evaluated the wordings of 15 media pieces written when three separate discoveries were made apparently as a proof of alien life, such as Nasa’s announcement in 1996 about likely presence of microbial life on a meteorite from Mars, and the reduction in glow of “Tabby’s Star” which was speculated to have been an alien megastructure.
Further responses from 500 participants hired online in a fake announcement about the discovery of alien microbial life were analyzed, on the parameters of their own views and how they expected humanity to respond to the news. A separate set of 500 people were given a genuine news article about the 1996 “discovery” or an article describing how scientists produced a synthetic living cell on Earth, and their responses were analyzed.
The results of the exercise were published in the journal Frontiers of Psychology, and it was revealed that majority of the responses were positive, and alien life was expected to be capable of being beneficial rather than dangerous.
Alien megastructures – where we should look next
At the same time, it appears that the participants speculated that the masses would be overall not as excited about it as they were. Their personal responses to such an announcement had nearly 5% positive words and 1.32% negative words as an average, whereas it was 3.81% positive and 2.97% negative words describing the imaginary response of humanity overall. “We didn’t see strong or consistent effects of age, gender, income[and so on],” said Varnum.
In fact, participants’ language leaned more towards the positive regarding the microbes on Mars rather than the scenario of creating synthetic life in the laboratory; a discovery Varnum claims to show that there is a unique element about the chances of finding alien beings.
The study took into account the responses from only those in the US, and was focused on microbial alien life, and didn’t consider whether previous media reports might have influenced the participants. The team also didn’t take into account the views of the participants about whether aliens have already been on Earth, or look at language in different stories to assess whether people normally use a similar pattern of responding with more positive words than negative words.
No matter what, the writers say that the research has provided insights into the way humans will respond to the discovery of alien life-form. “If our findings provide a reasonable guide, then the answer appears to be that we will take it rather well,” they write.
Varnum further stated that a new unreleased analysis of the language used by the media regarding ‘Oumuamua – a strange object which was recently discovered speeding across our solar system’ strengthened the idea that humans might be positive about facing intelligent aliens’ acknowledging that reports hinting that the object might be an alien spaceship had more positive language than negative.
Professor Lewis Dartnell, an astrobiologist working at the University of Westminster, not associated with this study, welcomed the research findings. “It’s encouraging that this study has found people are likely to be enthusiastic about the discovery of microbial life beyond the earth,” he said. “We’re unlikely to ever encounter intelligent, space-faring aliens in our galaxy, but there are a number of upcoming missions that could detect signs of Martian bacteria.”