Of course it's one thing to be ordered to shock somebody, another to be the person giving the order. But even here women are perfectly capable, according to Darius Rejali, PhD, a Reed College political science professor who has studied torture for nearly 30 years. The reason women haven't done more tormenting throughout history, he maintains, is simply that they've been denied opportunities. "It's rare that women get to do the torturing," as he puts it. "Those jobs have mostly been taken by men." (Although it is not technically torture, women also don't seem to have a problem forcing others into sexual slavery. A recent United Nations report showed that more than 60 percent of those convicted of human trafficking in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are females.)

"Few of us will ever find ourselves interrogating a terrorist," says Burger. "But we can all point to times when we did something we are not proud of." For example, your boss might ask you to fudge the books, or pretend you didn't see him doing it. "The answer is to become more aware of how powerful a given situation can be. When we say, 'Just this once,' we should recognize that taking the first step will make the next step—perhaps a slightly larger ethical lapse—easier. When we think, "Everybody's doing it, so it must be okay," or "I'm only doing what I was told," those are also red flags. And if something doesn't feel quite right, we should take time to think before acting."

In the end, he says, "Milgram's subjects were not sadistic. They were in a situation that made it difficult to act otherwise."

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