May 7, 2014 - Humans are not yet ready to make contact with intelligent aliens, a study suggests.
Space psychologist Professor Gabriel de la Torre came to the conclusion after questioning 116 American, Italian and Spanish university students.
The survey assessed participants' knowledge of astronomy and their perception of cosmological order - the "place" things occupy in the universe.
It also touched on religious topics and the likelihood of contact with extraterrestrials.
The survey indicated that the students were ill-prepared for the momentous impact contact with ET might have on the human race, said Prof de la Torre.
Most lacked awareness of many aspects of astronomy and their views were coloured by religion.
"This pilot study demonstrates that the knowledge of the general public of a certain education level about the cosmos and our place within it is still poor," said Prof De la Torre, from the University of Cadiz in Spain.
"Therefore, a cosmic awareness must be further promoted - where our mind is increasingly conscious of the global reality that surrounds us - using the best tool available to us: education. In this respect, we need a new Galileo to lead this journey."
He added: "Regarding our relation with a possible intelligent extraterrestrial life, we should not rely on moral reference points of thought, since they are heavily influenced by religion. Why should some more intelligent beings be 'good'?"
The survey was carried out amid controversy over the on-going Active Seti (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) project.
Active Seti sets out to send radio messages from Earth to the stars, as well as listen for them.
It has been criticised by some experts, including top British physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. He warned of the consequences of revealing ourselves to technologically advanced beings who may not have our best interests at heart.
A high-powered message sent to the Gliese 581 system, a five-planet solar system 20 light-years away, is due to arrive in 2029.
Gliese 581 has two planets in its "habitable zone", an orbital region where temperatures are mild enough to allow liquid surface water and possibly life.
Prof de la Torre, who worked on the Mars 500 project which tested the psychological pressures on astronauts travelling to Mars, also questions the wisdom of Active Seti.
"What would happen if it was successful and 'someone' received our signal?" he said. "Are we prepared for this type of contact?"
Writing in the journal Acta Astronautica, he urges Seti scientists to look for alternative strategies.