Americans would welcome alien life rather than fear it

illustration of potential alien microbes
ITSY BITSY ALIENS Americans would probably welcome the discovery of microbial alien life.

AUSTIN, Texas — If alien microbes crash-land on Earth, they may get a warm welcome.

When people were asked how they would react to the discovery of extraterrestrial microbial life, they give generally positive responses, researchers reported at a news conference February 16 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

This suggests that if microbial life is found on Mars, Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus (SN: 5/13/17, p. 6) or elsewhere in the solar system, “we’ll take the news rather well,” said Michael Varnum, a social psychologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. What’s more, the tone of news reports announcing potential evidence for intelligent aliens suggests people would welcome that news, too.

Varnum and colleagues asked about 500 online volunteers — all in the United States — to describe how they would react if they learned scientists had discovered alien microbes. Varnum’s team analyzed each response using software that determined the fraction of words indicating positive emotion, such as “nice,” and negative emotion, like “worried.” The program also scanned for reward- and risk-focused words, such as “benefit” and “danger.”

martian meteorites
In 1996, a Martian meteorite (top) made headlines when researchers reported it might have harbored microbial alien life (bottom) — a claim that has not found widespread support among the scientific community.


People generally used more positive and reward-oriented words than negative…

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