Irene Maxine Pepperberg is a research
scientist at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. Pepperberg obtained her undergraduate
degree in Chemistry in 1969 at Massachusetts Institute
of Technology. In 1976, she completed her Ph.D. in Chemical
Physics at Harvard University.
July 1976, Pepperberg began a full-time reading program
in the ethology, psychology, and neurobiology, and attended
seminars and a course in child language acquisition
at Harvard. In January 1977, she continued this work
at Purdue University. Later that year, Pepperberg purchased
Alex the African Grey parrot and began conducting experiments
on interspecies communication and conceptual behavior.
A prolific author, Pepperberg has published a large
number of articles and a book about her work with Alex.
A distinguished member of multiple professional societies,
Pepperberg is an active and sought after international
links to this scientist's home page and other related infomation
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To what extent do parrots understand what you say? For
example, if you said, "You want a cracker?" would a parrot
reply, "I want a cracker," or would it simply repeat,
"You want a cracker?"
bird's reaction depends on how it was trained. My birds
see two people interacting during training, where one
says "You want a cracker?"; the other responds "I want
a cracker", and gets the cracker. Thus the bird sees which
phrase is associated with getting the cracker and learns
the appropriate phrase. The earlier show, #205
(almost a decade ago), showed a bit of the training procedure.
The point is that birds that see how speech is used learn
not only to repeat the phrases and words, but to understand
what the sounds mean and how to use them.
Sarah Cohn asks:
Do you think African Gray Parrots like Alex are able to
communicate independent thoughts to humans?
a limited extent, yes. One example: After Alex learned
the phrase "I want X", he could put new labels into the
X slot without training. Sometimes he does things that
communicate to us indirectly. We were having him sound
out the plastic letters (T, S, SH, I, K, N, OR, etc.)
and he kept asking for nuts after each correct answer
and we kept telling him to wait. So he said, very distinctly,
"I wanna nut...Nnn...Uuh....Tttt...."
Sandra Harvey asks:
Hello. A month ago, we were given an African Grey parrot
who had plucked out all of her feathers below her neck
after a frightening episode with a large dog. She's six
years old and has taken to me, mostly. I think she is
doing well after such a short time. Her feathers are already
growing back. Do you have any advice on raising her? The
kids have tried to teach her colors, like you taught Alex
on the program. She seems to be getting it. Do you have
any good books you could recommend? Thanks, we enjoyed
don't want to sound self-serving, but there's my own book,
The Alex Studies, for training. Then there is a Barron's
book, by Maggie Wright, on general Grey behavior, feeding,
socializing, etc., and another by Carol D'Arezzo on toys
that you can make for your bird. All these can be purchased
on the Internet.
Meri Fox-Szauter asks:
I noticed that you bonked Alex on the beak with objects
when you asked him questions - was that to keep his attention
on the task at hand? We have two lovebirds we're trying
to teach/tame and are interested in techniques. It was
great to see Alex again! Thank you
He gets distracted sometimes, but even more often when
there is a very interesting camera crew nearby. Thank
Carol Evans asks:
Are your devices/toys for entertaining parrots for sale?
If they are not available now, will they be available?
When? There are many bird owners (like me) who struggle
to keep their birds entertained. Many, who must worry
daily about their pets when away from home. Please tell
me your products will soon be for sale.
are trying to interest the Media Lab sponsors into developing
these devices for sale. The Lab owns the rights to these
devices, and thus our sponsors have access. Will let you
know what happens!