Ken Wallston   PhD, MA

Professor of Psychology
Joe B. Wyatt Distinguished University Professor


A faculty member at the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing for more than 40 years, Ken Wallston worked widely in the transdisciplinary arena termed behavioral medicine. He was known for his research regarding how individuals' beliefs in their ability to control their health influence their health behavior and outcomes. In the 1970s, he and colleagues developed the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control (MHLC) scales, which are still used to assess belief and health status.

In addition to his appointment at the School of Nursing, Dr. Wallston was a professor of psychology in the College of Arts and Science and professor of psychology and professor of human and organizational development at Peabody College. During his decades at Vanderbilt, he was also a Kennedy Center member, research associate at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, and longtime director of the VUSN Health Care Research Project. He was also an active member of the Institute for Medicine and Public Health at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

In addition to his research, Dr. Wallston taught research and statistics in the Nursing School's master's and Ph.D. programs. Born in Stamford, Connecticut, Wallston earned an A.B. in psychology from Cornell University before obtaining his master of arts and doctorate in social psychology from the University of Connecticut. After several years as assistant professor and researcher at the University of Wisconsin, he joined Vanderbilt as assistant professor in the School of Nursing and College of Arts and Science in 1971. He was appointed full professor in 1982. Dr. Wallston served on a variety of school and university committees, including chairing the university's Faculty Senate. He earned many professional and Vanderbilt awards, and was named the Joe B. Wyatt Distinguished University Professor in 2007. He was appointed professor of nursing, emeritus, upon his retirement in 2017.

A prolific researcher, Dr. Wallston published hundreds of articles during his career and continued in retirement. He was named fellow by both the American Psychological Association and Society of Behavioral Medicine.

Regarded internationally as one of the founders of health psychology, Kenneth Wallston died in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2020.


  • PhD, University of Connecticut
  • MA, University of Connecticut
  • AB, Cornell University (Psychology)

Current Research/Scholarly Interests

  • Psychometric measurement
  • Perceived control of health; health locus of control; perceived competence
  • Adaptation to chronic illness
  • Self-management of chronic medical conditions
  • Health literacy and numeracy; public health literacy
  • Health effects of expressive writing


Operating Room Workload and Quality of Care. Funded by the Veterans' Administration, IAF 06-085. (Role: Co-PI with M. Weinger, PI); 2008-2010

Brief Assessment of Health Literacy and Association with Cardiovascular Outcomes. Funded by the National Health, Lung, and Blood Institute/NIH, R21HL096581-01R1. (Role: Co-PI with S. Kripalani, PI) 2010-2012

Public-Private Partnership Addressing Literacy-Numeracy to Improve Diabetes Care. Funded by the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive Diseases, and Kindey/NIH, 1R18DK083264-01A2. (Role: Co-PI with R. Rothman, PI) 2010-2015

Expressive Writing: Complementary Treatment for Diabetes. Funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine/NIH, R01 AT002477-01. (Role: PI of Nashville Site with J. Smyth, Syracuse University, Overall PI) 2004-2009

Representative Publications


Coty, Mary-Beth & Wallston, K.A. (2010). Problematic social support, family functioning, and subjective well-being in women with rheumatoid arthritis. Women and Health. 50, 53-70.

Mulvaney, S. A., Rothman, R.L., Wallston, K.A., Lyberger, C., & Dietrich, M. S. (2010). An Internet-based program to improve self-management in adolescents with Type 1 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 33, 602-604.

Christensen, A.J., Howren, M.B., Hillis, S.L., Kaboli, P., Carter, B.L., Cvengros, J.A., Wallston, K.A., & Rosenthal, G.E. (2010). Patient and physician beliefs about control over health: Association of symmetrical beliefs with medication regimen adherence. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 25, 397-402.

Osborn, C.Y., Cavanaugh, K., Wallston, K.A., & Rothman, R.L. (2010). Self-efficacy links health literacy and numeracy to glycemic control. Journal of Health Communications, 15(2), 146-58.

Wallston, K.A., Osborn, C.Y., Wagner, L.J., Hilker, K.A. (2010). The Perceived Medical Condition Self-Management Scale applied to persons with HIV/AIDS. Journal of Health Psychology. Advance online publication.

Cavanaugh, K., Wingard, R., Hakim, R., Eden, S.K., Shintani, A., Wallston, K., Huizinga, M.M., Elasy, T., & Rothman, R. (2010). Health literacy & mortality in incident dialysis patients. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. Advance online publication.

Sinclair, V. G., & Wallston, K.A. (2010). Psychological vulnerability predicts increased depressive symptoms in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Nursing Research, 59, 140-146.

Mukolo, A., Heflinger, C. A., & Wallston, K.A. (2010). The stigma of childhood mental disorders: A conceptual framework.JAACAP, 49, 92-103.

Fair, A., Wujcik, D., Lin, J-M. S., Zheng, W., Egan, K. M., Grau, A. M., Champion, V. L., & Wallston, K.A. (2010). Psychosocial determinants of mammography follow-up after receipt of abnormal mammography results in medically underserved women. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 21(1), 71-94.

Cherrington, A., Wallston, K.A., & Rothman, R. L. (2010). Exploring the relationship between diabetes self-efficacy, depressive symptoms, and glycemic control among men and women with type 2 diabetes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 33, 81-89.

Smith, K., Coston, M., Glock, K., Elasy, T., Wallston, K., Ikizler, T. A., & Cavanaugh, K. L. (2010). Patient perspectives on fluid management in chronic hemodialysis. Journal of Renal Nutrition. 20, 334-341.

Vollman, M. W., LaMontagne, L.L., & Wallston, K.A. (2009). Existential well-being predicts perceived control in adults with heart failure. Applied Nursing Research, 22,198-203.

Cavanaugh, K., Wallston, K., Gebretsadik, T., Shintani, A., Davis, D., Gregory, R., et al. (2009). Addressing literacy and numeracy to improve diabetes care: Two randomized controlled trials. Diabetes Care. 32, 2149-2155.

Carrico, A. R., Padgett, P., Vandenberg, M. P., Gilligan, J., & Wallston, K.A. (2009). Costly myths: An analysis of idling beliefs and behavior in personal motor vehicles. Energy Policy, 37, 2881-2888.

Munson, G. W, Wallston, K.A., Dittus, R. ,Speroff, T., & Roumie, C. L (2009). Activation and perceived expectancies: Correlations with health outcomes among veterans with inflammatory bowel disease. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 24, 809-815.

Kumar, D., Schlundt, D. G., & Wallston, K.A. (2009). Patient-physician race concordance and its relationship to perceived health outcomes. Ethnicity and Disease, 19, 345-351.

Osborn C. Y., Cavanaugh, K., Wallston, K.A., White, R. O., & Rothman, R. L. (2009). Diabetes numeracy mediates the association between African American race and poor glycemic control. Diabetes Care, 32, 1614-1619.

Freedman D. A., Bess K. D., Tucker H. A., Boyd D. L., Tuchman, A. M., & Wallston, K.A. (2009). Public health literacy defined. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 36, 446-451.

Wolff, K. A. et al. (2009).The Diabetes Literacy and Numeracy Education Toolkit (DNLET): Materials to facilitate diabetes education and management in patients with low literacy and numeracy skills. The Diabetes Educator, 35, 238-241.

O'Hea, E. L., Moon, S., Grothe, K., Boudreaux, E. D., Bodenlos, J., Wallston, K., & Brantley, P. J. (2009). The interaction of locus of control, self-efficacy, and outcome expectancy in predicting HbA1c in medically underserved individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 32, 106-117.

Coty, M-B., & Wallston, K.A. (2008). Roles and well-being among healthy women and women with rheumatoid arthritis.Journal of Advanced Nursing, 63, 189-198.

Wagner, L. J., Hilker, K. A., Hepworth, J. T., & Wallston, K.A. (2008). Cognitive adaptability as a moderator of expressive writing effects in an HIV sample. AIDS & Behavior. (ePub in advance of print; 7/8/08).

Cavanaugh, K., Huizinga, M. M., Wallston, K.A., Gebretsadik, T., Shintani, A., Davis, D. et al. (2008). Association of numeracy and diabetes control. Annals of Internal Medicine, 148, 737-746.

Huizinga, M. M., Elasy, T. A., Wallston, K.A., Cavanaugh, K., Davis, D., Gregory, R. P., et al. (2008). Development and validation of the Diabetes Numeracy Test (DNT). BMC Health Services Research, 8, 96.

Franklin, M. D., Schlundt, D. G., & Wallston, K.A. (2008). Development and validation of a religious health fatalism measure for the African American faith community. Journal of Health Psychology, 13, 323-335.

Wallston, K.A., Rothman, R. L., & Cherrington, A. (2007). Psychometric properties of the Perceived Diabetes Self-Management Scale (PDSMS). Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 30. 395-401.

Wallston, K.A., (2007). Patient healthcare behaviours related to medication use/adherence. In N. MacKinnon (Ed.). Safe and Effective. Canadian Pharmacists Association. 269-288.

Wallston, K.A. (2007). Perceived control. In S. Ayers, A. Baum, C. McManus, S. Newman, J. Weinman, K. Wallston and R. West (Eds). Cambridge Handbook of Psychology, Health and Medicine, Second Edition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. 148-150.

Goggin, K., Malcarne, V. L., Murray, T. S., Metcalfe, K. A., & Wallston, K.A. (2007). Do religious and control cognitions predict risky behavior? I. Development and validation of the Sexual Risk Behavior-related God Locus of Control Scale for Adolescents (SexGLOC-A). Cognitive Therapy and Research, 31, 123-139.

Roumie, C. L., Elasy, T. A., Wallston, K.A., Pratt, S., Greevy, R. A., Liu, X., et al. (2007). Clinical intertia: A common barrier to changing provider prescribing behavior. Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, 33, 277-285.

Roumie, C. L., Elasy, T. A., Griffin, M. R., Liu, X., Stone, W. J., Wallston, K.A., et al. (2006). Improving blood pressure control through provider education, provider alerts, and patient education: A cluster randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 145, 163-175.

Masters, K. S., & Wallston, K.A. (2005). Canonical correlation reveals important relations between health locus of control, coping, affect and values. Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 719-731.

Wallston, K.A. (2005). The validity of the Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scales. Journal of Health Psychology, 10, 623-631.

Wallston, K.A. (2004). Multidimensional Health Locus of Control Scale. In A.J. Christensen, R. Martin, and J. Smyth (Eds.)Enclyclopedia of Health Psychology. New York: Kluwer Academic/ Plenum. 171-172.

Wallston, K.A. (2004). Control and health. In Norman Anderson (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Health & Behavior, Volume One. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 217-220.

Smith, C. A., Wallston, K.A., & Dwyer, K. A. (2003). Coping and adjustment in rheumatoid arthritis. In J. Suls and K. A. Wallston (Eds.) Social psychological foundations of health and illness. Oxford, UK: Blackwell. 458-494.

Suls, J., & Wallston, K.A. (eds.) (2003). Social psychological foundations of health and illness. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.


  • The Effects of Expressive Writing in Breast Cancer Survivors with Lymphedema. Mentored Research Scholar Grant in Applied and Clinical Research from the American Cancer Society to Sheila Ridner, Ph.D., MSN. (1/1/07 - 12/31/09).
  • Mentor. Mammography Follow-up in Minority and Medically Underserved Women. Mentored Research Scholar Grant in Applied and Clinical Research from the American Cancer Society to Alicia (Malin) Fair, Ph.D. (Meharry Medical College) (1/1/07 - 12/31/11).
  • Mentor. Coping, Depression, and Heart Failure Outcomes. Mentored Research Scientist Award (Grant # K01 NR010137-01) from the National Institute of Nursing Research/NIH to Michael Vollman, Ph.D., MSN. (9/26/06 - 7/31/09).
  • Mentor. Multiple Roles, Role Stress and Strain in Adults with Recent Onset of RA. New Investigator Award from the Arthritis Foundation to Mary-Beth Coty, Ph.D., MSN. (University of Louisville). (1/1/07 - 12/31/09).

Professional Organizations

  • American Psychological Association Division 38 Health Psychology
    Treasurer, 1987-1993
    Newsletter Editor, 1994-2002
    President, 1998-99
    Division Historian, 1997-Present
  • Society of Behavioral Medicine
    Chair, Finance Committee: 1993-1996
    Local Arrangements Chair, 2000
    Member Delegate to Executive Committee, 2002-2005
    Chair, Finance Committee 2004-2008