Karen Bales

Karen Bales Portrait

Position Title

102C Young Hall


  • Ph.D., Biology, University of Maryland
  • M.A., Anthropology, University of Tennessee
  • B.A., Anthropology; Minor, Biology, University of New Orleans


In addition to her academic appointments in Psychology as well as Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, Karen Bales is the interim director of the California National Primate Research Center. She is a past president of the American Society of Primatologists and the editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Primatology.

Research Focus

Professor Bales studies the physiology, neurobiology and development of social bonding, particularly in monogamous species. She works with prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster), titi monkeys (Plecturocebus cupreus), and seahorses (Hippocampus erectus), all species in which males and females form pair-bonds, and males provide pre- or post-natal care for infants. In particular, she is interested in the role of neuropeptides such as oxytocin and vasopressin in these behaviors, as well as the effects of early experiences on the development of these behaviors. Her current research (funded by NIMH) focuses on the role of the kappa opioid and oxytocin system in social buffering and separation.

Publications (out of app. 154)

  • Pfeifer, S.P., Baxter, A., Savidge, L.E., Sedlazeck, F.J., Bales, K.L. (2024) De novo genome assembly for the coppery titi monkey (Plecturocebus cupreus) - an emerging non-human primate model for behavioral research. Genome Biology and Evolution May 17: evae108.
  • Witczak, L.R., Samra, J., Dufek, M., Goetze, L.R., Freeman, S.M., Lau, A.R., Rothwell, E.S., Savidge, L.E., Arias-del Razo, R., Baxter, A., Karaskiewicz, C.L., Ferrer, E., Bales, K.L. (2024) Expression of bond-related behaviors affects titi monkey responsiveness to oxytocin and vasopressin treatments. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1534: 118-129.
  • Baxter, A., Karaskiewicz, C.L., Campbell, L.A., Kinnally, E.L., Ferrer, E., Seelke, A.M.H., Freeman, S.M., Bales, K.L. (2023) Parental experience is linked with lower vasopressin receptor 1a binding and decreased postpartum androgens in titi monkeys. Journal of Neuroendocrinology 18;e13304. 
  • Escriche Chova, P., Ferrer, E., Goetze, L.R., Dufek, M.E., Freeman, S.M., Bales, K.L. (2023) Neural and behavioral reactions to partners and strangers in monogamous female titi monkeys (Plecturocebus cupreus). Behavioural Brain Research 443: 114334.
  • Berendzen, K.M., Sharma, R., Mandujano, M.A., Wei, Y., Rogers, F.D., Simmons, T.C., Seelke, A.M.H., Bond, J.M., Larios, R., Goodwin, N.L., Sherman, M., Parthsarthy, S., Espineda, I., Knoedler, J.R., Beery, A., Bales, K.L., Shah, N.M., Manoli, D.S. (2023) Oxytocin receptor is not required for social attachment in prairie voles. Neuron 111:787-796.e4.
  • Mederos, S.L., Duarte, R.C., Mastoras, M., Dennis, M.Y., Settles, M.L., Lau, A.R., Scott, A., Woodward, K., Johnson, C., Seelke, A.M.H., Bales, K.L. (2022) Effects of pairing on color change and central gene expression in lined seahorses. Genes Brain and Behavior 21:e12812.


Professor Bales teaches in the areas of biological psychology and hormones and behavior. Undergraduates can gain research experience in her laboratory, focusing on social behavior, hormones and neuroanatomy.


Professor Bales has received a number of prestigious grants and awards throughout her career. She has received research grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute of Aging, the National Science Foundation, the Good Nature Institute, the National Institute for Drug Abuse, and the National Alliance for Autism Research, among others. In 2013, she received the Division of Social Sciences Dean's Innovation Award. She is a Kavli Fellow and a UC Davis ADVANCE Scholar. In 2018 her lab won the UC-Davis Laboratory Safety Award, and in 2021 she received the Exemplar Award from the Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior.