Dr. Gregory F. Ball

Department of Psychology, University of Maryland

Gregory (Greg) Ball trained with a group of very prominent ethologists and behavioral endocrinologists, including Rae Silver, Mei Cheng, Colin Beer, John Wingfield, Bruce McEwen and Peter Marler. He earned a BA in Psychology from Columbia University and a PhD in Psychobiology from the Institute of Animal Behavior at Rutgers University. He completed his postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University, where he did work in the field and in the lab on wild bird populations.  He held a faculty appointment at Rockefeller, as well as at Boston College, then a nearly 24-year stint at Johns Hopkins University and now at the University of Maryland, College Park.


Greg helped drive a number of impactful projects, including the articulation of the “Challenge Hypothesis” to explain testosterone and aggression, the songbird neurogenomic initiative and the revision of the avian brain nomenclature. His work not only addresses fundamental proximate mechanisms, but also their ultimate evolutionary consequences. This broad approach asking questions at multiple levels is probably no coincidence, given he is the academic grandchild of Niko Tinbergen. He has a long-standing interest in the regulation of seasonal behavior and reproduction in birds, and with our changing climate, this research becomes ever more vital as we try to understand the capacity for species to adapt rapidly. His other long-term interests include neural sex differences and their relevance for vocal learning, and the role of aromatase in male sexual behavior of birds. Gregory Ball’s research has truly been following the tradition of Daniel Lehrman by investigating the endocrine, social and environmental controls of reproductive behavior, primarily in birds.


Greg’s contributions to science are numerous and include: establishment of the “challenge hypothesis”, clarification of the role of androgens and estrogens in song learning, establishment of how steroid hormones regulate neurotransmitter systems in relation to the seasonal control of song behavior, demonstration of how steroid hormones independently regulate motivational and performance aspects of birdsong production, linking motivational neural systems to song production and song learning, conducting comparative studies of sex differences in the song system, conducting comparative studies of chemical neuroanatomy in birds that provided part of the foundation for the re-evaluation of theories of avian brain evolution, conducting comparative studies of GnRH seasonal plasticity in songbirds, cloned the gene for GnRH-I in songbirds, and established when the GnRH neuronal system is regulated by photoperiod, discovering that songbirds can perceive acoustic fine structure, studies of the mechanisms of song production and perception in female songbirds, and contribution to the understanding of how testosterone acting via estrogenic metabolites regulates appetitive and consummatory aspects of male sexual behavior in quail.


In addition to these scientific accomplishments, Greg has also been an exceptional mentor. Greg has had a total of 29 past and present pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees. Many of his trainees now have their own academic position and continue to contribute very substantially to the development of our scientific field.  Everyone knows and appreciates Greg based on his tall stature, loud and deep voice, and neverending sense of humor, but also, most importantly, his inspired and thoroughly documented scientific insights and exceptional mentorship.  At scientific gatherings, his presence is always felt, although he never dominates discussions. He facilitates new collaborations for colleagues and encourages and supports the more junior researchers setting out on their careers.


Greg was one of the key persons involved in organizing the first meeting of the Society for Behavioral Neuroendocrinology (SBN) in Baltimore, he was President of the SBN from 2009 to 2011, he served on the international committee for several international conferences such as Hormones, Brain and Behavior and the International symposium on Avian Endocrinology. In recent years, he has served the SBN by acting as its representative to the Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (FABBS). He has been a board member for Hormones and Behavior for many years and has worked as an associate editor/editorial board for a range of journals including the Journal of Comparative Neuroanatomy and General and Comparative Endocrinology. Greg is an elected fellow of the American Ornithological Society, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychological Society.  Finally, and perhaps most significantly, he was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2014.


In addition to his work as a scientist and mentor, Greg has had a very successful administrative career.  He served as Vice Dean for Science and Research at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.  He moved to the University of Maryland to become Dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, where he served for nearly 8 years.  Most recently, he was appointed Vice President for Research at both the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He has thus had an impact on science and career development well beyond the boundaries of our field.