Psychology: How will we react to discovery of alien life

  • Thread starter jim mcnamara
  • Start date
  • Featured
  • #1
jim mcnamara
Mentor
4,672
3,595
Jung Yul Kwon et al, How Will We React to the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life?, Frontiers in Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.02308

https://phys.org/news/2018-02-humans-react-pretty-news-alien.html#jCp
Answer: probably well (this is a limited pilot study)

The pilot study analyzed news scientific reports (with software), and gave questionnaires to study subjects after reading some specially chosen reports as well. You are best advised to read the phys.org link first before generating conclusions. Limited study.

This is in the discussion forum, PF does not really have a section or good support for Psychology.
 
  • Like
Likes Stavros Kiri, DennisN, davenn and 3 others

Answers and Replies

  • #2
18,842
9,027
I haven't read the article yet, but personally I'd react differently depending on the sophistication. If we find single cell bacteria/organisms I'll be amazed and excited. If we find multi cellular organisms, even fairly large, but relatively unintelligent I'll be floored. If we find intelligent sentient life my mind might melt. I actually worry a bit for the world if that happens. Can our world really handle such a headline?
 
  • Like
Likes Stavros Kiri, ISamson and BillTre
  • #3
BillTre
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,187
6,999
Interesting.
I am glad they distinguished unintelligent (bacterial-like), intelligent life, and unknown.
I would have liked to see also what @Greg Bernhardt mentioned, complex multicellular organisms, but I think the reactions would have been the same.

Since this is set-up as a here's a news story of an initial discovery, little more than existence of life is disclosed, so the potential for good or harm is left up in the air (or space).
Further information would make such a discovery more interesting (probably in all cases) and perhaps more threatening (depending on knowledge of their biology and/or intent). As the invading Martians in War of the Worlds found out, even unintentional, unintelligent microbe like organisms, might have bad effects on other life forms, even if they are not adapted to our ecosystem. I would expect a reaction to threatening microbes similar to but stronger than that for Ebola when its was active in Africa with a few cases in the US.

Other things not independently explored include: the distance of the discovered life from us (potential of interaction) and any message from an intelligent life form or if they know about us.
A variety of religious beliefs would have also been interesting to survey. This might be a challenge to some belief systems. The more complex the life form, the more of a challenge it would be.

Considering the current state of our culture, I would have liked to see how many would have just said "fake news!" or something like that.

I also think that a lot of popular opinion is driven by media coverage (War of the Worlds radio broadcast) and how different media (and the government through them) treated the event would shape a lot of reaction to it. The study actually used media descriptions in their study.
 
  • Like
Likes DennisN and Greg Bernhardt
  • #4
symbolipoint
Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
6,905
1,573
The posible meaning of finding life somewhere else either to or from...

 
  • #5
Lord Anoobis
131
22
If we find intelligent sentient life my mind might melt. I actually worry a bit for the world if that happens. Can our world really handle such a headline?
I have an idea that net result of such a finding would be nothing less than chaos, at least initially. What the long term effects would be I can't say, but if Orson Welles' radio broadcast is anything to go by we'll be headed interesting times.
 
  • #6
PeroK
Science Advisor
Homework Helper
Insights Author
Gold Member
2021 Award
23,265
14,771
I haven't read the article yet, but personally I'd react differently depending on the sophistication. If we find single cell bacteria/organisms I'll be amazed and excited. If we find multi cellular organisms, even fairly large, but relatively unintelligent I'll be floored. If we find intelligent sentient life my mind might melt. I actually worry a bit for the world if that happens. Can our world really handle such a headline?

The average person is more interested in Manchester United or Coronation Street than alien life. I can't see how it would change anything.

I have an idea that net result of such a finding would be nothing less than chaos, at least initially. What the long term effects would be I can't say, but if Orson Welles' radio broadcast is anything to go by we'll be headed interesting times.

I don't see the relevance of Orson Welles, as that was a Martian invasion. But, evidence of alien life several hundred light years away would be headlines for a few days and then be replaced on the front pages by what some celebrity has been getting up to.
 
  • Like
Likes jim mcnamara
  • #7
Lord Anoobis
131
22
I don't see the relevance of Orson Welles, as that was a Martian invasion. But, evidence of alien life several hundred light years away would be headlines for a few days and then be replaced on the front pages by what some celebrity has been getting up to.
I have no doubt that if we had alien visitors the replacement headline would reference a celebrity having had sex with one of them, quickly followed by a leaked video and talk show appearances. And someone trying to cash in on it by writing a book.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes DennisN and PeroK
  • #8
ISamson
Gold Member
440
162
We need to get ready for the encounters, in my opinion. If we encounter ET (like us) tomorrow, then we will most likely go mad. War will break out, instability could destroy us and all the scientists will go mad.
 
  • #9
Dr. Courtney
Education Advisor
Insights Author
Gold Member
3,333
2,517
Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof. I'll be skeptical. So far, every claim of alien life has turned out to be untrue.
 
  • Like
Likes BillTre and jim mcnamara
  • #10
jim mcnamara
Mentor
4,672
3,595
Instead of making up ideas, consider that people in governments have already considered the discovery of alien intelligent life and potential effects. So while imagining scenarios is fun, I guess, a lot of really bright people have worked on this topic for a long time. The core problem is we have no solid evidence of alien life forms. So nobody has a concrete answer

Given how we see people go non-linear over more mundane solidly defined subjects, if one takes comments from @PeroK and @Dr. Courtney together, we may want to see what these researchers think. The spectrum of speculations is dauntingly large, IMO. Wikipedia has links to what they reported.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potential_cultural_impact_of_extraterrestrial_contact

A mere 104 links. Try reading one like maybe: https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/what-happens-if-we-detect-extraterrestrial-intelligence/
which details SETI and what the SETI researchers expect they expect will happen IF such a finding is substantiated with SETI data. It is not what anyone here has described so far. They postulate: Huge amount of confusion, skepticism, fear mongering, and nonsense media reports. Sounds to me more like politics as usual.
 
  • Like
Likes PeroK
  • #11
18,842
9,027
Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof. I'll be skeptical. So far, every claim of alien life has turned out to be untrue.
ok let's make this easy. They've made contact with us. What's your psychology like with that knowledge? Go! :smile:
 
  • Like
Likes Stavros Kiri
  • #12
Lord Anoobis
131
22
ok let's make this easy. They've made contact with us. What's your psychology like with that knowledge? Go! :smile:
My reaction after watching that on the news and reading whatever is available would be, "Hmm, interesting." Because whether they're peaceful or planning on pulling an Independence Day it's out of my hands in either case and there's buggerall I can do about it except observe the proceedings and hope we're not knackered.
 
  • Like
Likes pinball1970 and BillTre
  • #13
DennisN
Gold Member
1,911
5,924
A very interesting study! And a great topic for a discussion thread, I think. This is a topic I have thought about quite often myself, i.e. how would humanity react to ET life? The result of the study surprised me, I did not think the reaction would be that positive.
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Likes Stavros Kiri
  • #14
fresh_42
Mentor
Insights Author
2021 Award
17,607
18,183
If I think of the way we usually meet and treat tribes in the amazon rain forest, I'm not very optimistic about our own ethic behavior.
 
  • Like
Likes Stavros Kiri, Mondayman and symbolipoint
  • #15
DennisN
Gold Member
1,911
5,924
My first thought after I read the physorg article is if the positive bias seen in the study possibly could be due to our (I presume :wink:) positive bias towards novelty and excitement. Therefore I read the paper quickly, and I could not find any info about double-blind trials and control groups. If that is the case, i.e. there was no double-blind test, I am very skeptical of the results. What if the results are due to novelty and excitement, which in a real situation could turn to negative bias towards extraterrestrial life in the long run? Questions, questions... :smile:
 
Last edited:
  • #16
pinball1970
Gold Member
1,539
2,113
Fresh_42 If I think of the way we usually meet and treat tribes in the amazon rain forest, I'm not very optimistic about our own ethic behaviour

Bacteria I would be happy with, end the creationist argument.

Anything approaching sentience I would worry.
 
Last edited:
  • #17
Borg
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,049
3,301
If we find intelligent sentient life my mind might melt. I actually worry a bit for the world if that happens. Can our world really handle such a headline?
I don't think that I would have any trouble assimilating the news.
 
  • Like
Likes phinds, BillTre, DennisN and 1 other person
  • #18
18,842
9,027
I don't think that I would have any trouble assimilating the news.
For me in many areas of reality, academic truth lives in a different department than experiential and visceral truth. In this example, I am fully on board when scientists say the odds are there is life elsewhere in the universe. For me that is academic truth and is stored away in my own little internal encyclopedia. However, when that alien life visits us, it moves into the experiential and visceral truth department and then my world flips upside down.
 
  • #19
Borg
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,049
3,301
However, when that alien life visits us, it moves into the experiential and visceral truth department and then my world flips upside down.
I doubt that I would feel that way unless there was an apparent hostile intention.
 
  • #20
lpetrich
987
176
I read Frontiers | How Will We React to the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life? | Psychology, and here are some details of the three studies.

The first one (a pilot study) was an assessment of news stories with software with some linguistic-analysis software. The news stories came from mainstream publications like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and Science Magazine. The stories were then analyzed with the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) software, some software that has been used in some similar research projects. That software counted up positive vs. negative words, and also words about reward vs. words about risk. The researches used the default LIWC2015 dictionary. They found more positive than negative words, and more reward words than risk words.

The second one (Study 1) involved recruiting 504 people with Amazon's Mechanical Turk service and asking them what they thought about the discovery of microbes elsewhere in the Universe, and also how they thought humanity would react. "“Please take a moment to imagine that scientists have just announced the discovery of the existence of microbial life (i.e., bacteria, viruses, or other similar life forms) outside of planet Earth. Think about how YOU personally would react to such news and please describe how YOU would react below. Please provide as much detail as you can and please try to write at least a few sentences describing what YOUR thoughts, feelings, and responses would be.", with "you" replaced by "humanity" for the second one. The order of these tasks was random. The participants also had to describe what emotions that they thought that they would experience.

Overall, they used more positive words than negative ones, though risk vs. reward was mixed.

The third one (Study 2) involved reading either an article about the possible discovery of fossilized microbes in a Martian meteorite, or else about the creation of a new microbe species in Craig Venter's laboratory. A total of 508 people were recruited, again with Mechanical Turk. They had more positive reactions to the possible discovery of microbes on Mars than to the creation of a microbe in a lab.

The authors concede that the sample is not very representative of humanity, however -- mostly American Mechanical-Turk participants.
 
  • #21
If the ETs would be millions of years more advanced than us, we would look maybe interesting in some sense, not more. There would be no motivation to attack us because we would be just a tiny grain of sand in their research reservoir and there would be nothing to win. Even having communication with us would be the same as our willingness to have a discussions with ants. This kind of knowledge would change us in all sense.
 
  • #22
BillTre
Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,187
6,999
If the ETs would be millions of years more advanced than us, we would look maybe interesting in some sense, not more. There would be no motivation to attack us because we would be just a tiny grain of sand in their research reservoir and there would be nothing to win. Even having communication with us would be the same as our willingness to have a discussions with ants. This kind of knowledge would change us in all sense.

Interesting point of view there.
I am thinking that if way advanced (compared to us) aliens discovered us (and did not think of us as tasty), we would be interesting from a research point of view.
Especially if either life or "intelligent" life were found be them to be rare in the universe.
 
  • #23
BWV
1,227
1,374
If there was an interstellar ET civilization they could just as likely be motivated to wipe us out in order to eliminate a potential future threat
 
  • #24
AlexCaledin
361
578
In this physical reality, there are no ET-fellows. This reality is simulated, and the simulating computer, and the IT staff above all, have obviously so many problems simulating our brains that it's clear that we are more than enough.
 
Last edited:
  • #25
Stavros Kiri
954
681
If we find intelligent sentient life my mind might melt. I actually worry a bit for the world if that happens. Can our world really handle such a headline?
Even more imagine if we encountered a "Galaxy Class" or Even a "Universe Class" Intelligent Civilization ! ... (types III and IV - see the
Kardashev scale)
Our minds would just blow ... to say the least.
 
  • #26
Stavros Kiri
954
681
We need to get ready for the encounters, in my opinion. If we encounter ET (like us) tomorrow, then we will most likely go mad. War will break out, instability could destroy us and all the scientists will go mad.
I don't think there is a good way to predict that. Because a big part depends on "them" and what they will actually do ...
 
  • Like
Likes ISamson
  • #27
pinball1970
Gold Member
1,539
2,113
If there was an interstellar ET civilization they could just as likely be motivated to wipe us out in order to eliminate a potential future threat


Yes that was the reason for my pessimistic view, I hardly read fiction now but the book “the killing star” 1995 deals with this very question.


If ET is intelligent why would they want to harm us?


This could be a wiki summing up or a quote from the book not sure but this answers it


the moment humans learned to travel at relativistic speeds was the moment mankind simply became too dangerous a neighbor to have around. Nothing personal.

 
  • #28
Stavros Kiri
954
681
In this physical reality, there are no ET-fellows. This reality is simulated, and the simulating computer, and the IT staff above all, have obviously so many problems simulating our brains that it's clear that we are more than enough.
And who simulated us? Is "he"/Are "they" a simulation too? And who simulated "him"/"them"? If not, why can't we be the real (original) stuff? [because I know we are ...]
 
  • #29
Evo
Mentor
23,924
3,261
There is no way to know how we would react. Thread closed.
 

Suggested for: Psychology: How will we react to discovery of alien life

Replies
12
Views
684
Replies
4
Views
469
  • Last Post
Replies
23
Views
520
  • Last Post
Replies
10
Views
350
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
281
Replies
1
Views
214
  • Last Post
Replies
4
Views
389
  • Last Post
Replies
12
Views
626
  • Last Post
Replies
2
Views
327
Top