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Photo of Irene Pepperberg IRENE PEPPERBERG

Irene Pepperberg is Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, with joint appointment in the Department of Psychology and as an Affiliate in the Program in Neuroscience. Irene's research examines how organisms, primarily birds, acquire and use communication systems. Her focus is on exceptional learning: how birds acquire a code unlikely to be learned in the normal course of development; interspecies communication based on English or another avian system and the extent to which a subject acquires functional competence in this code; effect of social interaction on the development of animal-human communication in parrots.

Although Irene's long-standing interest is interspecies communication and comparative behavior, she chose at first to train for a career in chemistry and chemical physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she received an S.B. in chemistry, and at Harvard University, where she earned an MA in chemistry and Ph.D. in chemical physics.

While a student at Harvard, she attended seminars and some courses on the communicative behavior of animals, avian biology, and, toward the end of her graduate career, on language acquisition in humans. During this period, she realized that her principal interest was indeed in animal behavior and comparative psychology, rather than in theoretical chemistry and began a full-time reading program in the fields of ethology, psychology, and neurobiology.

In 1977, Irene acquired an African Grey parrot and began to conduct experiments on interspecies communication and conceptual behavior in a psittacine subject while at Purdue University. She subsequently became a Research Associate in Biology at Purdue and was appointed to a part-time teaching position in the Department of Psychology in 1982. In 1984, she accepted a position as visiting assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at Northwestern University. This position continued until 1991 when she assumed an associate professorship in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona, where she received tenure in May, 1994.

For more information about Irene Pepperberg and her work, please visit her home page.

See Irene Pepperberg's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
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