Study Says Humanity Would Welcome News of Alien Life

Friday, 16 February 2018 - 7:05PM
Alien Life
Friday, 16 February 2018 - 7:05PM
Study Says Humanity Would Welcome News of Alien Life
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NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Toledo
Sharing has never been humanity's strong point, if the history of our species has been any indication. Weariness at this seemingly in-built trait in human behavior was what led HG Wells to write War of the Worlds, in which one of the planet's largest colonial forces got a taste of their own medicine as they were invaded by an aggressive alien empire.

In the century since this story first entered the public consciousness, humans have been obsessed with the idea of alien visitors being a dangerous threat. Considering the very real possibility that this is the case, it would make sense that, by and large, humans wouldn't be thrilled about actually discovering life on other planets.

According to a new study, though, people in general remain optimistic about human-alien relations. Arizona State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Michael Varnum has presented a pilot study that involved studying media coverage of events that hinted at the possibility of alien life, such as the arrival of Oumuamua and the discovery of various potentially habitable exoplanets across the galaxy.

The study found that, by and large, media voices are generally positive about the possibility of living aliens. Apparently, we're all more excited by the prospect of making new friends than we are of the dangers of a rival species sniffing around our planet with advanced weapons and a dark agenda.

Varnum also conducted a second study, which involved asking participants to summarize their feelings surrounding news of potential alien life. Again, laypeople are by and large excited by the prospects of meeting aliens.

You can hardly blame people for being hopeful. Part of the reason why the human race is so eager to find life on other worlds is that it would mean that we're not alone in the universe, and traditionally, our very social species has dealt very poorly with loneliness. If ours is the only living planet in the universe, then when we die out, there'll be nobody to remember us, and the entirety of creation feels like a bit of a waste of time.

The big question that needs to be asked is what kind of alien life people are excited to meet. Single-celled organisms or unevolved animals aren't particularly a threat to our species, and their discovery would be more of a curiosity than a danger. Our zoos might get a little more interesting, and there'd be a bunch of new diseases to immunize against, but otherwise, the discovery of aliens wouldn't affect us all that much.

Of course, nobody's really looking forward to the discovery of space lichen. We want to meet the kinds of humanoid creatures that science fiction has promised us - either the traditional bug-eyed grey aliens, or the kind of sexually compatible extra-terrestrials that show up in Star Trek whenever the writers are struggling for ways to keep the show interesting.

If, instead, we found out that an aggressive, militaristic alien race was bearing down on us, there's a good chance that humans would very quickly change our perspective on things. Even if the aliens we find are nominally harmless, it's worth assuming that the media would quickly try to find ways to make them sound more scary.

On this planet at least, bad news sells papers a lot better than good news. If we ever do meet sentient aliens, we'll have to see whether their mass communications are any more honest than our own.
Alien Life