Irene Pepperberg, PhD

Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D., is founder and president of The ALEX Foundation (Avian Learning Experiment). She is also Research Associate, Harvard University and Adjunct Associate Professor, Brandeis University. Dr. Pepperberg is a world-renown scientist noted for her studies in animal cognition, particularly in relation to parrots.

She is well known for her comparative studies of the cognitive fundamentals of language and communication, and was one of the first to try to extend work on language learning in animals other than humans (such as the Washoe Project) to a bird species. She is also active in wildlife conservation, especially in relation to parrots.

Before Dr. Pepperberg’s work with her african grey parrot, Alex, it was widely believed in the scientific community that a large primate brain was needed to handle complex problems related to language and other cognitive functions, and that without a complex neocortex birds were not capable of anything other than mimicking words. However, Alex’s accomplishments indicated that birds are able to reason and use words creatively.

Dr. Pepperberg wrote that Alex’s intelligence was on a par with that of dolphins and great apes. She also reported that Alex had the intelligence of a five-year-old human and had not reached his full potential by the time he died. Her book, Alex & Me was a ‘New York Times’ best-seller.

ReThinking Animals
February 2012
The ALEX Project: Learning from a Bird Brain
May 2012