Are we alone in the universe? Scientists say humans would probably respond well to the discovery of extraterrestrial life. CC0 Creative Commons

Humans would rather come in contact with aliens than with artificial life made on Earth, a team of researchers has found. They also say that despite the prevalence of movies and TV shows depicting aliens as malevolent creatures, people might react well to a discovery of extraterrestrial life.

The findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology and are based upon an analysis of responses to hypothetical reports of alien discoveries — specifically microscopic life as opposed to intelligent life — and real newspaper stories that discussed potential discoveries in the past.

According to the study, people predicted that they as individuals would take the news better than the rest of humanity.

They also had better “responses to reading an actual announcement of the discovery of extraterrestrial microbial life … than responses to reading an actual announcement of the creation of man-made synthetic life” in a laboratory. That conclusion came from a comparison of how subjects reacted to an article about Martian microbes and how they reacted to one about artificial life. The people were more receptive to the former, revealing something about how people view organic life forms and how they view synthetic life.

“Taken together, this work suggests that our reactions to a future confirmed discovery of microbial extraterrestrial life are likely to be fairly positive,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

In addition to gauging people’s reactions to reading newspaper stories about aliens, the scientists analyzed language used in articles and reported that the coverage was associated mostly with positive emotions rather than negative ones.

Among the real articles on possible alien discoveries were stories about fossilized microbes on Mars, unexplained activity around a star and the existence of Earth-like planets in another solar system.

“If we came face to face with life outside of Earth, we would actually be pretty upbeat about it,” researcher Michael Varnum said in a statement from Arizona State University. “So far, there’s been a lot of speculation about how we might respond to this kind of news, but until now, almost no systematic empirical research.”

According to the study, there could be many factors behind how people respond to alien life, including their religious views and whether they would take comfort in knowing that Earth’s life forms are not alone in the universe.

“Perhaps it speaks to their desire for novelty,” the paper says. “At present, we do not know the mechanisms by which this effect occurs, and we encourage future researchers to test these and other possibilities.”