Avian Expert Articles

Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D.

Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Irene Pepperberg is a lecturer and research associate at Harvard University, in Cambridge, MA, where her research lab is located. You can help Dr. Pepperberg continue the groundbreaking parrot research she began more than 30 years with Alex, the African grey parrot that won admirers from around the world with his cognitive abilities. If you shop online through sites such as Amazon.com, you can designate the Alex Foundation to receive a percentage of your final sales, or register with the Alex Foundation at iGive.com and a percentage of sales from companies associated with iGive will go to the foundation. The Alex Foundation also has a “Donate” button linked to PayPal. Visit http://alexfoundation.org and click on the “Support Us” link for more information.

Articles by Irene:

African grey

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Mutual Exclusivity in Parrots—A Special Case of Inference

Dr. Irene Pepperberg once again put African grey parrot Griffin to the test in her cognitive behavior research lab. This time around, he was pushed beyond the concept of “inference by exclusion” (inferring where something can be found after being given information about where it is absent) to the trickier concept of mutual exclusivity (ME). Would Griffin understand that an object could, for example, be both “green” and “wool,” or “blue” and “wood?” See if Griffin was able to take his training to the level of his predecessor, Alex the African , and beyond.

yellow crown amazon parrot

How Good is a Parrot’s Long-Term Memory?

How well do parrots remember situations, other parrots, and people over the course of their long lives? Dr. Pepperberg, gives us a rundown on research that points to parrots as having brain areas that function in ways similar to the human cortex, and how their extremely high neural densities enable advanced cognitive processing—which requires good memory.

African Grey Parrot on a perch

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Putting Parrots’ Inferential Knowledge To The Test

When her colleagues at Harvard questioned Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s 2-cup test success that showed parrots are capable of inferential knowledge to make decisions, Pepperberg and students at her cognitive behavior research lab upped the ante from the 2-cup test to 3- and 4-cup tests. They once again put African grey Griffin to the test. See how Griffin fared, especially when a coveted Skittle treat reward was at stake.

African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Fish &  Parrots  Outperform Apes & Monkeys

If you put parrots (specifically, African grey parrots), fish, monkeys and apes to the test on who could figure the fastest way to procure two rewards instead of one, who would come out on top? Dr. Pepperberg and friends of her cognitive behavior research lab recently modeled a test for her flock to see how they would fair in a choice-themed task inspired by wrasse fish, and tested on primates as well.

african grey training

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Parrots Show Self-Control

  Grey parrots may sometimes be impulsive—think about how often you may have had to give your bird multiple timeouts for the same behavior (like chewing on your sunglasses) in a very short time period. However, my students and I have shown that our parrot, Griffin, can actually exhibit quite a bit of self-control. We […]

African grey portrait

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Why Parrots Play Favorites

Dr. Pepperberg notes that she and her staff at her cognitive behavior research lab haven’t noticed a one-person tendency among her flock of birds; but she has experienced the avian equivalent of the “cold shoulder” from time to time. Get a glimpse of how flock dynamics can fluctuate in the wild and how parrots’ natural instincts might affect their behavior in the home.

African grey

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: When Parrots Speak Their Mind…Or Not

If you are the director of a world-famous animal cognitive behavior research lab, what do you do when your feathered diva doesn’t follow directions? Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her assistants start by having African grey Athena watch her flockmate Griffin perform a requested task with the hope that she’ll be inspired to model his behavior. When that fails, see how Athena has her own way of proving just how smart parrots are.

African greys on beach set

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Fun Fundraising Featuring The Parrots

Devising new ways to test parrots’ cognitive skills is the exciting part of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and her staff’s work. The challenging part is finding the exact words to sum up a study — and the even more challenging part is finding creative ways to inspire people to donate to help fund the lab’s research. Fortunately, the parrots can usually be relied upon to “lend a wing” to the cause. African grey Griffin and his fellow greys have been going on epic “outings” to inspire donors to flock to the lab’s Facebook and Tumbler pages.

African grey parrot given choice of cups with rewards

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Understand “Process of Elimination?”

Process of elimination and inference are two powers of reasoning, and Dr. Pepperberg conducted fascinating tests to determine the existence of inference in African greys.

Dr Pepperberg and African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Engage In Cooperative Behavior?

Will African grey parrots share food or ask humans for help? The latest experiments at Dr. Pepperberg’s lab give some interesting answers!

dr. irene pepperberg

Parrots In Need & War Veterans Bond At Serenity Park

  My topic this month is quite a bit different than usual. Rather than a report of the activities of the parrots in the Pepperberg Lab, it revolves around a visit I took to a very interesting place just about two years ago. The place is called Serenity Park, and it is the subject of […]

African grey parrot on a perch

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Do Parrots Understand Probability?

To test a parrot’s ability to understand probability, Dr. Irene Pepperberg’s cognitive behavior research lab recently presented African grey parrot Griffin with a task similar to what a 6-8 year-old child might be tasked to do — using three of one item and one of another, if one item was removed, what was the removed item likely to be? Griffin’s answers might surprise you.

African grey, grey parrot, African grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Research Lab: “What’s Mine is Mine and What’s Yours is Mine”

“What’s mine is mine and what’s your is mine.” Does this sum up your feathered friend’s antics? Dr. Irene Pepperberg explains not only how this parrot quirk is based on natural behavior, but she also shares how we can use it to our advantage in the home.

African grey, African grey parrot, grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Griffin Speaks His Mind

As companion animals, parrots are unique in that they can use human language to verbally communicate with us. Dr. Irene Pepperberg knows first-hand the advantages of working with such communicative subjects. African grey Griffin, for example, can verbalize requests to Dr. Pepperberg and her research assistants, such as when he wants to go back to the cage (“Wanna go back”) or sit with them (“Wanna go chair”). But this command of words also creates some interesting dilemmas on how to talk in front of a parrot that understands what you are saying.

african grey parrot

Inside Dr. Pepperberg’s Lab: Prepping For A Film Crew Visit

Inviting a film crew into a research lab devoted to the study of cognitive behavior in parrots involves not only prepping the lab, but the parrots and the filmmakers. Dr. Irene Pepperberg shares her account of having a film crew join her in the lab.

African grey parrot

How Dr. Pepperberg Chooses What Topics To Study

The inspirations for topics of Dr. Pepperberg’s African grey studies come from many different sources, and all add up to fascinating information being revealed.

African grey parrot Athena drinking grape juice

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Parrots’ Cognitive Abilities Put To The Liquid Test

After a certain age, children are able to understand conservation of amounts. Can birds also understand that a change in shape might not change the amount?

Blue fronted Amazon eating

Dr. Pepperberg Dishes: Will Parrots Work For Food?

Studies point to an interesting fact: Working for food rewards parrots with more than just food to eat. Find out what this means.

African grey parrot

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: African Grey Athena’s Antics

Our youngest bird, Athena, can present some interesting challenges to our research. We sometimes joke that she doesn’t have an “off switch.”

African grey parrot Athena drinking grape juice

Inside Pepperberg’s Lab: Catering to Parrots’ Tastes

Dr. Pepperberg reveals some unconventional, and unsung, activities needed to get data from the African grey parrots in her lab.

Subscribe to our newsletter