Irene M. Pepperberg

Irene M. Pepperberg

Fellow: Awarded 1996
Field of Study: Organismic Biology & Ecology

Competition: US & Canada

University of Arizona

Irene Pepperberg is known for her research on the cognitive and communicative abilities of Grey parrots. For over thirty years, she has trained these birds to communicate with humans via the sounds of English speech, and then has used this communication code to examine their intelligence. Her studies show that although these birds’ linguistic abilities seem roughly that of two-year-old children, their cognitive abilities are more like that of five- or six-year-old humans.

Ms. Pepperberg received her S.B. from MIT (Course V, 1969) and M.A. (Chemistry, 1971) and Ph.D. (Chemical Physics, 1976) from Harvard. She is currently a Research Associate and Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Harvard and an Adjunct Associate Professor at Brandeis University’s Psychology Department. She has been a visiting associate professor at MIT’s Media Lab, later accepting a research scientist position there, after leaving a tenured professorship at the University of Arizona. She was an adjunct associate professor at Northwestern University. She has been a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study (2004-2005), was an alternate for the Cattell Award for Psychology, won the 2000 Selby Fellowship (Australian Academy of Sciences), won the 2005 Frank Beach Award for best paper in comparative psychology, was nominated for the 2000 Weizmann, L’Oreal, and Grawemeyer Awards, the 2001 Quest Award (Animal Behavior Society), and was renominated for the 2001 L’Oreal Award. She has also received fellowships from the Harry Frank Guggenheim and Whitehall Foundations, and numerous grants from the National Science Foundation. During her Guggenheim Fellowship term, she wrote The Alex Studies (Harvard UP, 1999), describing her first twenty years of peer-reviewed experiments on Grey parrots; the book received favorable mention from publications as diverse as the New York Times and Science. Her memoir, Alex & Me, published after the demise of her most famous parrot pupil, has been a New York Times bestseller in both hardback and paperback, and won a Christopher Award in 2009. She has presented her research findings nationally and internationally at universities and scientific congresses, often as a keynote or plenary speaker, and has published well over 100 journal articles, reviews, and book chapters. She is a fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Society, the American Ornithologists’ Union, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), of both the Eastern and Midwestern Psychological Associations, and presently serves as consulting editor for four journals.


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