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Karen Bales


  • 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 appointment in Psychology, Karen Bales is the unit leader of the Neuroscience and Behavior Unit at 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) and titi monkeys (Callicebus cupreus), both species in which males and females form pair-bonds, and males help 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 focuses on animal models of the long-term effects of exposure to intranasal oxytocin, as this hormone is already being prescribed to humans for treatment of autism, schizophrenia and social anxiety.

Selected Publications


Professor Bales teaches in the areas of physiological psychology and has recently taught courses on physiological 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, 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. She is also on the organizing committee for the 2016 German-American Kavli Frontiers of Science Conference.