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Neuroscience, Restorative Justice, and Winston Churchill

Nancy Kirk and Rebecca Jaremko Bromwich



This blog post answers a riddle: what connects justice, neuroscience, and Winston Churchill? The answer is the international Restorative Justice 4 All Institute in the United Kingdom. The two of us, who are now collaborating on interdisciplinary research, first met in the Churchill Room at the London Houses of Parliament at the 10 year anniversary celebration of RJ4All at the UK Houses of Parliament in December 2023. Nancy is a graduate student studying neuroscience and a volunteer with RJ4All doing front line RJ work in East London. Rebecca is a lawyer and mediator from Canada who is also a legal academic studying restorative justice.

 

This blog post is a follow up to Rebecca’s November 2023 Restorative Justice Week post, which discussed the RJ4All Institute and promised follow up. The benefits of the RJ4All institute in bringing together diverse perspectives on RJ is well demonstrated by our nascent research collaboration, thinking through how RJ initiatives could be better grounded in, and informed by, understandings of trauma and cognition provided by neuroscience.

 

Significantly, the RJ4All Institute in 2015 published a book on psychology and restorative justice, a collection on which we are building in our research collaboration.  Gavrielides, T. (2015). The Psychology of Restorative Justice: Managing the Power Within. Ashgate Publishing: Furnham, ISBN 978-1-4724-5530-7.

 

Neurodiversity

 

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the diverse ways in which individuals perceive and interact with the world. This recognition extends beyond conventional notions of neurotypicality, encompassing a spectrum of neurodivergent experiences. Concurrently, advancements in neuroscience have deepened our understanding of moral decision-making processes, shedding light on the intricate mechanisms underlying human behavior.

Against this backdrop, the principles of restorative justice have emerged as a transformative approach to addressing harm and conflict within communities. By intertwining these three domains – neurodivergence, neuroscience of morality, and restorative justice – we embark on a journey to explore the nuanced connections and implications for fostering greater inclusivity, empathy, and justice in society.

 

Neurodivergence and Moral Cognition:

 

Neurodivergence refers to neurological differences in cognition, behavior, and perception, encompassing conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and others. Individuals on the neurodivergent spectrum may experience challenges in social communication, sensory processing, and executive functioning. Traditional frameworks of moral cognition often presuppose a uniform understanding and application of moral principles. However, neurodivergent perspectives offer a compelling counter-narrative, revealing the diverse ways in which morality is perceived and enacted.

 

Research in the neuroscience of morality has uncovered the neural substrates implicated in moral decision-making processes. Brain imaging studies have identified regions such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and temporoparietal junction (TPJ) as critical nodes in moral processing. These regions integrate emotional, cognitive, and social information to guide moral judgments and behavior. Importantly, variations in brain structure and function associated with neurodivergence may influence individuals' moral reasoning and sensitivity to moral norms[RJB1] .

 

For instance, individuals with ASD may exhibit differences in empathic responding and theory of mind abilities, affecting their understanding of others' perspectives and moral intentions. Similarly, those with ADHD may struggle with impulse control and executive function, impacting their ability to consider long-term consequences and inhibit morally inappropriate behaviors. By recognizing the diverse cognitive profiles inherent in neurodiversity, we gain insight into the multifaceted nature of moral cognition and its manifestation across different populations.

 

Restorative Justice and Neurodiversity:

 

Restorative justice represents a paradigm shift from punitive approaches to what RJ4All Director Dr. Theo Gavrielides has called an ethos of conflict resolution, emphasizing accountability, healing, and community involvement. Central to restorative practices is the recognition of the harm caused to individuals and relationships, along with the importance of addressing underlying needs and restoring trust. In the context of neurodiversity, restorative justice offers a framework that is responsive to individuals' unique strengths and challenges, fostering meaningful participation and equitable outcomes.

 

Traditional adversarial systems of justice may inadvertently marginalize neurodivergent individuals, failing to accommodate their communication styles, sensory sensitivities, or cognitive differences. By contrast, restorative processes prioritize dialogue, empathy, and collaboration, creating space for diverse voices to be heard and valued. Moreover, restorative interventions can be tailored to accommodate various modalities of expression, such as visual aids, written statements, or facilitated discussions, ensuring accessibility for neurodivergent participants.


The research findings from neuroscience studies on morality provide insights into how factors like empathy, social norms and personal values influence moral decision-making. Understanding the neuroscience of morality has implications for areas like ethics, psychology, child and adolescent development and social integration and the law. It helps to progress better understanding why people make certain moral choices and how we can influence moral behaviour.

 

Further, restorative justice principles align closely with the ethical considerations highlighted by the neuroscience of morality. By foregrounding empathy, perspective-taking, and interpersonal connection, restorative practices promote the development of moral competencies essential for ethical decision-making. Neurodivergent individuals, in turn, may contribute unique insights and perspectives to restorative dialogues, enriching the collective understanding of harm, responsibility, and repair within communities.

 

 

Intersectionality and Inclusivity:

 

At the intersection of neurodiversity, neuroscience of morality, and restorative justice lies a rich tapestry of human experience and ethical inquiry. Recognizing the interconnectedness of these domains invites us to confront implicit biases, systemic barriers, and power differentials that shape our understanding of justice and morality. It calls for a commitment to inclusive practices that honor the dignity and agency of all individuals, regardless of their neurocognitive profiles or social identities.

 

In fostering greater inclusivity, we must engage in ongoing dialogue, education, and advocacy to dismantle stigmatizing attitudes and promote neurodiversity acceptance. This entails designing accessible environments, implementing reasonable accommodations, and amplifying the voices of neurodivergent advocates within the justice system. Additionally, interdisciplinary collaborations between neuroscience researchers, practitioners, and community stakeholders can yield innovative approaches to promoting ethical behavior and conflict resolution.

 

Conclusion:

 

The convergence of neurodiversity, neuroscience of morality, and restorative justice illuminates the intricate interplay between cognition, behavior, and social dynamics. By finding ways to embrace neurodivergent perspectives and integrating insights from neuroscience and restorative practices,we could potentially move towards a more inclusive and empathic society. As we navigate the complexities of moral decision-making and conflict resolution, let us aspire to cultivate environments that nurture understanding, resilience, and justice for all.




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