Royal Society Publishing

A neuroscientific approach to normative judgment in law and justice


Developments in cognitive neuroscience are providing new insights into the nature of normative judgment. Traditional views in such disciplines as philosophy, religion, law, psychology and economics have differed over the role and usefulness of intuition and emotion in judging blameworthiness. Cognitive psychology and neurobiology provide new tools and methods for studying questions of normative judgment. Recently, a consensus view has emerged, which recognizes important roles for emotion and intuition and which suggests that normative judgment is a distributed process in the brain. Testing this approach through lesion and scanning studies has linked a set of brain regions to such judgment, including the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex and posterior superior temporal sulcus. Better models of emotion and intuition will help provide further clarification of the processes involved. The study of law and justice is less well developed. We advance a model of law in the brain which suggests that law can recruit a wider variety of sources of information and paths of processing than do the intuitive moral responses that have been studied so far. We propose specific hypotheses and lines of further research that could help test this approach.

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