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

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, however 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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Dr Shaw said: "Most of us don't engage in murder ever, luckily. Murder fantasies are an empathy exercise. 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'."

She added that it is wrong to describe most murderers as "evil" because the action is usually the result of a one-off mistake and loss of control.

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.