As the United States faces incidents of terrorism and mass shootings more frequently, actor Morgan Freeman is set to explore the underlying causes of such violent extremism during the upcoming season of the Science Channel’s documentary series “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman.”

Morgan Freeman

“Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman”

Filming of an episode dealing with the motivations of individuals who carry out violent, extremist acts took place in Baltimore on June 6 at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum on Falls Road.

First aired in 2010, the seventh season of “Through the Wormhole” is scheduled to begin airing in early fall. The series is known for exploring deep questions with theoretical perspectives on topics such as “Why Do We Lie,” “Is Luck Real,” and “Can We Live Forever?” 

For the upcoming episode, producers interviewed University of Maryland professor and social psychologist Dr. Arie Kruglanski, who said dangerous acts are often performed by individuals looking to remedy their own perceived lack of importance or make up for some form of humiliation.

Kruglanski and five international scholars are part of a University of Maryland team called the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, or START, which produced an extensive study examining how this quest for significance can lead to violent acts. For the “Through the Wormhole” segment, Kruglanski re-created an interesting experiment from that study.

The experiment took place at Baltimore Streetcar Museum on one of the antique street cars, with a handful of UMD cheerleaders taking part. It focused on how an individual’s desire for “significance” can play a vital role in events, and drive them to make a “sacrifice” out of a need for acceptance. 

During the experiment, an individual was exposed to an experience that lowers their self significance, either a failure or recalling a failure in the past. The group was then presented with a hypothetical case in which members of the group were on the tracks and a trolley was approaching.

“If a person was very strongly connected to the group because he or she felt humiliated in need to assert their social identity, this person was more willing to jump in front of the trolley and get killed in order to save other members of the group,” said Kruglanski. “People who feel humiliated want to restore their significance and the way they restore is often by self sacrifice on behalf of the group because then the group venerates them.”

Freeman was not present for filming; according to Kruglanski, he was in Mississippi at the time.

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