Americans believe they'll be happy if scientists discover aliens: study

Humanity has spent many years imaging scenarios in which extraterrestrial life is announced or spontaneously shows up on Earth for a visit. Many stories, comic books, and movies present narratives wrapped around this idea...and many of those stories are less than optimistic about the outcome. Americans, though, largely believe they'd be happy about an extraterrestrial discovery, at least according to a newly published study.

The study was recently published in Frontiers in Psychology, where researchers detail work on determining the potential psychological impact an extraterrestrial discovery would have on humans. The paper details the results of three empirical studies that use Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count text-analysis software.

These studies analyzed the words used to describe one's beliefs about how they'd respond to an an extraterrestrial life discovery announcement, as well as their thoughts on how people has a whole would respond. The results are largely positive, with language analysis showing more positive than negative words.

Those results differ from the general idea presented in fiction, in which humans react with tension, fear, or outright hostility. This idea has been presented in fiction even when the extraterrestrial visitors aren't aggressive, such as in the movie Arrival.

What could explain the discrepancy? The type of extraterrestrial life the study focuses on. The team looked at the thoughts of people who are presented with the idea of microbial life being discovered elsewhere, whereas popular fiction often focuses on the discovery of actual sentient beings. The discovery of germs on a distant space rock is quite different from the discovery of a planet full of intelligent spider-beings, of course.

The study goes on to state:

It is also noteworthy that we did not observe much variation in responses as a function of personality traits, disease avoidance, political orientation, or demographic factors such as income or ethnicity. One potential interpretation is that there may be a fair amount of homogeneity in reactions to extraterrestrial life, and that the findings of the current study may be broadly generalizable.

Note, though, that researchers focused on US-based respondents, which could contribute to that homogeneity. It's unclear whether the results would be similar if respondents from a different country were used.

SOURCE: Frontiers in Psychology