It turns out thinking about ending the lives of others is a “common phenomenon” and an entirely human reaction – according to criminal psychologist Dr Julia Shaw, an honorary research associate at University College London.
The German-Canadian science writer said: “There’s been research looking at participants and asking them if they’ve ever fantasised about murdering someone.
“More than half of people generally say yes, they have fantasised about murdering someone.
“Popular targets are your boss, ex-partners – the list goes on, you can picture where your fantasies might go.
“Now of course most of us don’t engage in murder ever, luckily.”
An estimated one in 100 people are psychopaths, but not all psychopaths are violent. Nor are all violent people psychopaths.
Psychopathic traits tends to be innate, rather than the characteristics of a sociopath, which are often ascribed to social or environmental factors.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, Dr Shaw described murder fantasies as an “empathy exercise”.
Popular targets are your boss, ex-partners – the list goes on, you can picture where your fantasies might go. Now of course most of us don’t engage in murder ever, luckily.
Dr Julia Shaw
She said: “You think things through, you imagine what the consequences would be like, you imagine what it might be like to actually 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: “As human beings we’ve evolved intelligence, this ability to plan and to predict what outcomes might emerge from our behaviour, and that’s a critical piece of humanity.
“Fantasies and empathy exercises are critical to making good decisions, particularly in situations where you don’t have much time. While things are pretty good – that’s the time to do empathy exercises.
“Now is the time to wrestle with your morality and do a health check, because you don’t know what the future brings and you don’t know what kind of quick decisions you might make later.”
Dr Shaw also argued that actual killers should not be labelled as “evil”, adding: “It glazes over nuance, it’s a cop-out, it’s lazy.
“Calling someone evil is saying, ‘I don’t need to empathise with them, I don’t need to understand them, I don’t need to figure out why I might be similar to them in any way’.
“You see cases where people have been law-abiding their entire lives and they murder someone – they have a one-minute lapse in judgement and that is now the overriding feature of their life.”