Dr. Johnstone’s current research interests include identifying the neuropsychological correlates of spiritual experiences and human virtues, such as transcendence, empathy, and altruism. His research to date indicates that spiritual experiences such as transcendence are primarily related to a decreased focus on the self (i.e., selflessness), that is associated with decreased right parietal lobe functioning (which is associated with “self-orientation”). In addition, his current research has focused on the neuropsychological correlates of empathy and altruism, with findings indicating that these virtues are primarily related to increased left hemisphere functioning which is associated with “other-orientation.” A current research project is investigating the relationship among neuropsychological indices of cerebral integrity, spiritual experiences, and human virtues among different cultures and faith traditions, including individuals with traumatic brain injury from India, Ireland, and the US. This research will help determine the manner by which cultural factors influence the experience/expression of spiritual experiences and virtuous behaviors.
Dr. Johnstone’s past research has also focused on investigating the role of spiritual and religious factors in psychoneuroimmunological models of health. His published articles have indicated that spirituality (i.e., emotional connection with entities beyond the self) and religion (i.e., culturally based rituals/behaviors) are distinct, and that spirituality and congregational support are predictive of physical and mental health outcomes, but religious variables are not. Additional studies indicate that there are distinct differences between negative and positive spiritual experiences, and persons with any degree of negative spiritual belief (i.e., illness/injury is associated with punishment/abandonment from God) is associated with negative health outcomes.
Dr. Johnstone’s early career research focused on identifying predictors of positive and negative employment outcomes for persons with brain injury in the state vocational rehabilitation system. Results indicated that the best predictors of positive outcomes were delivery of specific vocational services (i.e., on-the-job training, vocational counseling), and that indices of injury severity and neuropsychological functioning were not predictive of outcome (indicating the need to focus on interventions and not traditional medical/psychological variables). In addition, his research indicated the importance of non-medical factors on employment outcomes, as individuals with TBI and psychological disorders/learning disabilities had significantly worse outcomes than persons with TBI and medical conditions (e.g., orthopedic injuries, seizures). Furthermore, individuals with TBI from rural areas had significantly worse outcomes than those from urban areas, and women had worse outcomes than men, although none of the groups differed significantly in demographics, injury severity, or neuropsychological test scores. These studies further indicated the need to address TBI issues within individuals’ home communities given the impact of the environment on outcomes (e.g., less services and professionals in rural areas), as well as societal expectations on brain injury outcomes (e.g., expectations for women to be primary homemakers/parents and men to be primary bread-winners).