Fantasising about murdering your boss is quite normal and suggests that you are more evolutionarily advanced, a leading psychologist says.

More than half of people have at one time or another imagined killing a person they know, according to Dr Julia Shaw, from University College London. She says this makes them less likely to carry out the violent act.

She told the Cheltenham Science Festival that rehearsing the details of murder in the mind reminds people of the negative consequences. This is likely to temper their actions in the heat of the moment.

Research indicates that employers are a favourite subject of murder fantasies, as well as ex-partners.

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"Most of us don't engage in murder ever, luckily. Murder fantasies are an empathy exercise," she said. "You think things through, you imagine what the consequences would be, you imagine what it might be like to go through with it — and guess what your decision generally is? 'I don't want to do that, because those are not the consequences I would like'."

Some evolutionary psychologists have argued that fantasising about murder indicates a person is more evolutionarily advanced because it suggests their ancestors have adapted to that behaviour rather than actually killing people.