Kenneth Ermil Vail, PhD
 Title: Assistant Professor
 Dept: Psychology
 Office: UN 257
 Phone: 216-687-3720
 Address: 2121 Euclid Ave. UN 257, Cleveland, OH 44115

Courses Taught


Faculty Only:
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Research Keywords:
psychology, social psychology, terror management theory, death, culture, politics, religion, prejudice, growth, defense, freedom, leadership
Ph.D., Social Psychology, University of Missouri, 2014
M.A., Social Psychology, University of Missouri, 2011
B.A., Psychology, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 2008
Brief Bio:
Dr. Vail is from Los Angeles; he received his BA from University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and his MA and PhD from University of Missouri.
Research Interests:
Our lab conducts research on motivation and the self, broadly investigating the cultural and personal consequences of the human existential condition. With that goal in mind, our work touches on the consequences of humans┬┐ awareness of their impermanence, their freedom and autonomy, feelings of isolation, and striving for a sense of meaning and significance.

Although not exclusively, much of our research utilizes terror management theory (TMT) as a vehicle. This theory initially addressed two relatively simple questions: Why do people have such a great need to feel good about themselves, and Why do people have so much trouble getting along with people who are culturally different from themselves?

Yet, since its inception in 1986, the theory has generated much empirical research into the nature of self-esteem motivation and prejudice as well as a host of other human social behaviors. Of late, our lab is particularly focused on trying to understand the role of such psychological mechanisms in: growth vs. defensive orientations; religious and non-religious orientations; and post-traumatic stress experiences.

A related, albeit more minor, focus of our lab is directed at understanding the motivational consequences of the experience of freedom. We build on classic existential philosophy and psychological theory, and take the perspective that although people may sometimes ineffectively manage their freedom, under certain circumstances they may be motivated to manage their freedom by, for example, following social consensus or cultural norms, pre-empting opportunity for choice (e.g., via self-handicapping), or supporting certain (e.g., autocratic or authoritarian) forms of leadership.

More information about these interesting and fruitful research areas can be found at our website, linked below, where you can gain some additional insight about these topics, about how our lab works, and learn about how you can contact or even join the lab

Lab website:
Teaching Areas:
PSY101 Intro to Psychology
PSY312 Research methods
PSY339 Social psychology
PSY525 Social psychology
PSY593 Special topics in psychology (existential social psych)

Other course topics:
experimental research methodology; social self
Professional Affiliations:
American Psychological Association
Society of Personality and Social Psychology
Professional Experience:
Researcher - University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Researcher - University of Missouri
Instructor - University of Missouri
Assistant Professor - Cleveland State University
University Service:
Research systems management. Sona Systems administrator. 2014 - present
Student research activity committee (SRAC). Chair. 2014 - present
Ad-hoc website renovation committee member. 2014 - present
Professional Service:
Ad-hoc peer-reviewer:
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (JPSP)
Psychological Science
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (JESP)
Journal of Research in Personality (JRP)
British Journal of Social Psychology (BJSP)
Journal of Consumer Affairs (JCA)
Analysis of Social Issues and Public Policy (ASAP)
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality
Social Psychology