Dr. Irene Pepperberg

irene_parrotsPhoto – Mike Lovett, Brandeis University Photographer

Dr. Irene Pepperberg is an Adjunct Research Professor at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts.


Ph.D., Chemical Physics, Harvard University, 1976
M.A., Chemistry, Harvard University, 1971
S.B., Chemistry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1969

Research Interests

Irene Pepperberg studies Grey parrots. The main focus of her work is to determine the cognitive and communicative abilities of these birds, and compare their abilities with those of great apes, marine mammals, and young children. She is studying the mechanisms of their learning as well as the outcomes.

Work History

  • Adjunct Research Professor, Dept of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, 7/22 – present
  • Research Associate, Harvard University, 2005-2021
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Brandeis University, 2002-2013
  • Bunting Fellow, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, 2004-2005
  • Research Scientist, MIT Media Lab, 2001-2002
  • Visiting Associate Professor, The Media Lab, MIT, 1999-2000
  • Associate Professor, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, January, 1991-2000, with joint appointment in Department of Psychology and as an Affiliate in the Program in Neuroscience
  • Visiting Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Northwestern, 1984-1991
  • Lecturer, Psychological Sciences, Purdue, Spring, 1982
  • Research Associate in Biology, Biological Sciences, Purdue, 1979-1984
  • Postdoctoral research in animal-human communication, Department of Biological Sciences, Purdue, 1977-1979
  • Postdoctoral Research Assistant, Chemistry, Harvard, July, 1976

Honors and Awards

  • Comparative Cognition Society Research Award, 2020
  • Nominee, Clifford T. Morgan Distinguished Leadership Award, Psychonomic Society, 2020
  • Marquand Award for Excellence in Advising and Support, Harvard University, Spring, 2019
  • Nominee, Atkinson Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, National Academy of Sciences, 2019
  • Nominee, Star Family Prize for Excellence in Advising, Harvard University, Spring, 2019
  • MUSE Award 2017, Bronze, American Alliance of Museums, for collaborative work on
    “Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think”, exhibit at New York Hall of Science
  • Nominee, Exemplar Award, Animal Behavior Society, 2015
  • Recipient, Christopher Clavius, S.J. Award, Sigma Xi, Saint Joseph’s University, 2013
  • Recipient, Biology Letters, Top Referees, 2011
  • Recipient, Harvard University Certificate of Excellence Award, Spring 2010, 2012, 2015
  • Nominee, Hebb Award, Division 6, American Psychological Association, 2009
  • Recipient, Top Reviewer Award, 2009
  • Charter Fellow, Midwestern Psychological Association, 2009
  • Fellow, Eastern Psychological Association, 2009
  • Recipient, Christopher Award, 2009
  • Frank A. Beach Comparative Psychology Award, American Psychological Association, 2006
  • Bunting Fellow, Radcliffe Institute, 2004
  • Fellow, AAAS, 2001
  • Nominee, Quest Award, Animal Behavior Society, 2001
  • Selby Fellow, Australian Academy of Sciences, 2000
  • Fellow, American Psychological Society, 1999
  • Fellow, American Ornithologists’ Union, 1998
  • Recipient, John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, 1996 (for calendar year 1997)
  • Fellow, American Psychological Association, 1996
  • Alternate, Cattell Award for Psychology, 1996
  • Nominee, Merit Teaching Award, 1995
  • Nominee, Distinguished Professor, 1995
  • Fellow, Animal Behavior Society, 1994
  • Recipient, UA Parents’ Association, Advisor Award for Capstone Experiences, 1994
  • Nominee, UA Creative Teaching Award, 1994
  • Nominee, Professor of the Month Award, Nat’l Women’s History Month, 1994
  • Nominee, AAAS Mentor Award, 1993, 1994
  • Recipient, Professor of the Month Award, Nat’l Women’s History Month, 1993
  • Finalist, Five Star Faculty Award, U of A, 1992

Selected Publications

Pepperberg, I.M., & Rosenberger, V. (2021) Delayed gratification: A Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) will wait for more tokens. J. Comp. Psychol. doi: 10.1037/com0000306

Smith, G.E., Greene, D., Hartsfield, L.A., & Pepperberg, I.M. (2021). Initial evidence for contrafreeloading in Grey parrots via the opportunity for playful foraging. J. Comp. Psychol. 135(4):516-533. doi: 10.1037/com0000295

Pepperberg, I.M (2021a). Symbolic communication in the Grey parrot. Cambridge Handbook of Animal Cognition, A. Kaufman & J. Call, eds., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-73.

Pepperberg, IM. (2021b). Nonhuman communication: some issues and questions. Front. Psychol. 12:647841. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.647841

Pepperberg, I.M. (2021c). A review of the Model/Rival (M/R) technique for training interspecies communication and its use in behavioral research. Animals 11, 2479. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11092479

Pepperberg, I.M. (2021a). Does captivity alter problem-solving behavior in Goffin’s cockatoos? Learn. Behav. Doi: 10.3758/s13420-020-00458-x

Pepperberg, I.M. (2021b). How do a pink plastic flamingo and a pink plastic elephant differ? Evidence for abstract representations of the relations same-different in a Grey parrot. Special issue of Current Opinions in Behavioral Sciences, 37:146-152. Doi: 10.1016/jcobeha.2020.12.010.

Pailian, H., Carey, S., Halberta, J, Feigenson, L., & Pepperberg, I.M. (2020a). Age and species comparisons of visual mental manipulation ability as evidence for its development and evolution. Special issue of Scientific Reports, 10,Article number: 7689, doi:10.1038/s41598-020-64666-1

Pepperberg, I.M. (2020a). The comparative psychology of intelligence: Some thirty years later. In special issue of Frontiers in Psychology: Comparative Psychology, D. Scarf, ed, 11:973. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg. 2020.00973

Pepperberg, I.M. (2020b) Vocal communication in nonhuman animals: View from the wings. In special issue of Animal Behavior and Cognition, “Communication in Nonhumans: The Forty Year Anniversary of Seyfarth, Cheney and Marler”, 7(2), 95-100. doi: 10.26451/abc.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2020c) Human-avian comparisons in cognitive performance. Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behavior, L. Workman, W. Reader, & J. Barkow, eds., Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3-13.

Cornero, F.M., Harstfield, LA., & Pepperberg, I.M. (2020d). Piagetian liquid overconservation in Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). J. Comp. Psychol., 143:197-210. doi:10.1037/com0000209

Pepperberg, I.M. (2020e) Human-avian comparisons in cognitive performance. Cambridge Handbook of Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behavior, L. Workman, W. Reader, & J. Barkow, eds.,

Pepperberg, I.M (2020f). Symbolic communication in the Grey parrot. Cambridge Handbook of Animal Cognition, A. Kaufman & J. Call, eds., Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Pepperberg, I.M., Gray, S.L., Cornero, F.M., Mody, S., & Carey, S. (2019a). Logical reasoning by a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus)? A case study of the disjunctive syllogism. Behaviour 156:409-445.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2019b). Animal sentience is not enough to motivate conservation. Commentary on Chapman, C.A., & Huffman, M.A. (2018). Why do we want to think humans are different? Animal Sentience 21(3). https://animalstudiesrepository.org/animsent/vol3/iss23/22/</a

Pepperberg, I.M. (2019c). Grey parrots: Studies in avian cognition. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, 2nd ed. J. Choe, ed., Oxford, pp. 83-89.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2018/2019). Tool use in Goffin’s cockatoos: shape/frame matching. Learning & Behavior, 47:1-2.

Clements, K., Gray, S.L., Gross, B., & Pepperberg, I.M. (2018a). Initial evidence for probabilistic learning by a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). Journal of Comparative Psychology. 132:166-177. doi: 10.1037/ com0000106

Pepperberg, I.M. (under review). How studies of communication among nonhumans and between humans and nonhumans can inform SETI. Xenolinguistics: Toward a science of extraterrestrial language, D. Vakoch & J. Castrovinci, eds.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2018b). Grey parrots: Cognitive and communicative abilities. A Practical Guide to Animal Cognition, N. Bueno & F. Amici, eds, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Pepperberg, I.M. (2018c). Zero concept. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior and Cognition, J. Vonk & T. Schackelford (Eds.). Springer.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2018d). Cardinality. Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior and Cognition, J. Vonk & T. Schackelford (Eds.). Springer.

Pepperberg, I.M., Gray, S., Lesser, J.S., & Hartsfield, L.A. (2017a). Piagetian liquid conservation in Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 131:370-383. 10.1037/com0000085

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017b). Alex the Parrot. In J. Vonk & T.K. Shackelford (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior, Springer

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017c). “Birdbrains” should not be ignored in studying the evolution of G. Commentary, Behav. Brain Sci, 40: e216.  DOI: /10.1017/S0140525X16001758

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017d) Review of studies on visual perception in Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus: The Müller-Lyer illusion, modal and amodal completion. Animal Behavior & Cognition, 4(3):378-395.Special issue on “Comparative Perception”. doi:10.12966/abc.08.0X.2017

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017e) Avian numerical cognition. In Avian Cognition, S. Healy & C. ten Cate (Eds.), Cambridge University Press.

Call, J., Burghardt, G.M., Pepperberg, I.M., Snowdon, C.T., & Zentall, T.R. (2017f). What is comparative psychology? In APA Handbook of Comparative Psychology, J. Call, I.M. Pepperberg, C.T. Snowdon, T.R. Zentall (Eds), American Psychological Association Press

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017g). Symbolic communication in nonhumans. In APA Handbook of Comparative Psychology, J. Call, I.M. Pepperberg, C.T. Snowdon, T.R. Zentall (Eds), American Psychological Association Press

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017h). Interspecific communication. In APA Handbook of Comparative Psychology, J. Call, I.M. Pepperberg, C.T. Snowdon, T.R. Zentall (Eds), American Psychological Association Press

Pepperberg, I.M. (2017i). Animal language studies: what happened? Special issue, Psych. Bull. & Rev., 24, 181-185. W.T. Fitch (Ed.), DOI 10.3758/s13423-016-1101-y

Griebel, U., Pepperberg, I.M., Oller, D.K. (2016a) Developmental plasticity and language: A comparative perspective. Topics in Cognitive Science 8:435-445.

Pepperberg, I. M. (2016b). Animal language studies: What happened? Psychonomic Bulletin & Review Psychon Bull Rev. doi:10.3758/s13423-016-1101-y

Pepperberg, I. M., & Nakayama, K. (2016). Robust representation of shape in a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). Cognition, 153, 146-160. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2016.04.014

Koepke, A. E., Gray, S. L., & Pepperberg, I. M. (2015). Delayed gratification: A grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) will wait for a better reward. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 129(4), 339-346. doi:10.1037/a0039553

Pepperberg, I. M. (2015). Reply to Jaakkola (2014): “Do animals understand invisible displacement? A critical review”. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 129(2), 198-201. doi:10.1037/a0038319

Pepperberg, I. M., & Hartsfield, L. A. (2014). Can Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) succeed on a “complex” foraging task failed by nonhuman primates (Pan troglodytes, Pongo abelii, Sapajus apella) but solved by wrasse fish (Labroides dimidiatus)? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 128(3), 298-306. doi:10.1037/a0036205

Péron, F., Thornberg, L., Gross, B., Gray, S., & Pepperberg, I. M. (2014). Human–Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) reciprocity: A follow-up study. Animal Cognition Anim Cogn, 17(4), 937-944. doi:10.1007/s10071-014-0726-3

Pepperberg, I. M., Koepke, A., Livingston, P., & Hartsfield, L. A. (2013). Reasoning by inference: Further studies on exclusion in grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e598032013-086

Pepperberg, I. M. (2012). Further evidence for addition and numerical competence by a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). Animal Cognition Anim Cogn, 15(4), 711-717. doi:10.1007/s10071-012-0470-5

Pepperberg, I.M., Carey, S. (2012). Grey Parrot Number Acquisition: The Inference of Cardinal Value from Ordinal Position on the Numeral List COGNIT2474

Péron, F., John, M., Sapowicz, S., Bovet, D., & Pepperberg, I. M. (2012). A study of sharing and reciprocity in grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Animal Cognition Anim Cogn, 16(2), 197-210. doi:10.1007/s10071-012-0564-0

Schachner, A., Brady, T. F., Pepperberg, I. M., & Hauser, M. D. (2009). Spontaneous Motor Entrainment to Music in Multiple Vocal Mimicking Species. Current Biology, 19(10), 831-836. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.03.061

Pepperberg, I.M., Vicinay, J., Cavanagh, P. (2008) The Muller-Lyer illusion is processed by a Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus). Perception 37:765-781.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2007a). Grey parrots do not always “parrot”: Phonological awareness and the creation of new labels from existing vocalizations. Language Sciences 29: 1-13.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2006a). Ordinality and inferential abilities of a Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus)Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120: 205-216.

Pepperberg, I.M. (in press). Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) numerical abilities: addition and further experiments on a zero-like concept. J. Comp. Psychol.

Pepperberg, I.M. & Gordon, J.D. (2005). Numerical comprehension by a Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus), including a zero-like concept. J. Comp Psychol.119: 197-209.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2004a). Insightful string-pulling in Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus) is affected by vocal competence. Anim. Cogn.7:263-266.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2004b). Cognitive and communicative abilities of Grey Parrots: Implications for the enrichment of many species. Animal Welfare 13:S203-208

Pepperberg,I.M. & Wilkes, S.R. (2004).  Lack of referential vocal learning from LCD video by Grey Parrots(Psittacus erithacus) Interaction Studies 5:75-97.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2003). Training behavior by imitation: from parrots to people&to robots. In Proceedings of the AISB 03 Second International Symposium on Imitation in Animals and Artifacts, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, K. Dautenhan & C. Nehaniv, eds

Pepperberg, I.M., & Sherman, D.V. (2002). A two-trainer modeling system to engender social skills in children with disabilities. Intl J. Comp. Psych. 15:138-153.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2001). Lessons from cognitive ethology: Animal models for ethological computing. Proceedings of the First Conference on Epigenetic Robotics,  C. Balkenius, J. Zlatev, H.  Kozima, K.  Dautenhahn, & C. Breazeal, Eds., Lund University Cognitive Science Series No. 85, Lund, Sweden,http://www.lucs.lu.se/Abstracts/LUCS_Studies/LUCS85.html (online only)

Pepperberg, I.M. & Shive, H.A. (2001). Simultaneous development of vocal and physical object combinations by a Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus): Bottle caps, lids, and labels. J. Comp. Psych. 115:376-384.

Pepperberg, I.M., and Lynn, S.K. (2000).  Perceptual consciousness in Grey parrots. American Zoologist 40:893-901.

Pepperberg, I.M., Sandefer, R.M., Noel, D., & Ellsworth, C.P. (2000). Vocal learning in the Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus): Effect of species identity and number of trainers. J. Comp. Psychol. 114:371-380.

Pepperberg, I.M., & Wilcox, S.E. (2000). Evidence for a form of mutual exclusivity during label acquisition by Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus)? J. Comp. Psych. 114:219-231.

Pepperberg, I.M., & Sherman, D. (2000). Proposed use of two-part interactive modeling as a means to increase functional skills in children with a variety of disabilities. Teaching and Learning in Medicine 12:213-220.

Pepperberg, I.M., Gardiner, L.I., and Luttrell, L.J. (1999). Limited contextual vocal learning in the Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus): the effect of co-viewers on videotaped instruction. J. Comp. Psych. 113:158-172.

Pepperberg, I.M., Naughton, J.R., and Banta, P.A. (1998). Allospecific vocal learning by grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus): A failure of videotaped instruction under certain conditions. Behav. Processes, 42:139-158.

Pepperberg, I.M., Howell, K.S., Banta, P.A., Patterson, D.K. and Meister, M. (1998). Measurement of the trachea of the Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus) via Magnetic Resonance Imaging, dissection and Electron Beam Computed Tomography. J. Morphol., 238:81-91.

Patterson, D.K. and Pepperberg, I.M. (1998). A comparative study of human and Grey parrot phonation: Acoustic and articulatory correlates of stop consonants. JASA 103:2197-2213.

Pepperberg, I.M. (1997). Social influences on the acquisition of human-based codes in parrots and nonhuman primates. Social Influences on Vocal Development, C.T. Snowdon and M. Hausberger, eds., Cambridge.

Pepperberg, I.M., Willner, M.R., and Gravitz, L.B. (1997). Development of Piagetian object permanence in a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). J. Comp. Psych. 111:63-75.

Patterson, D.K., Pepperberg, I.M., Story, B.H. and Hoffman, E. (1997). How parrots talk: Insights based on CT scans, image processing, and mathematical models. In SPIE Proceedings, Vol. 3033; ed. E. Hoffman. International Society for Optical Engineering.

Pepperberg, I.M. and McLaughlin, M.A. (1996). Effect of avian-human joint attention on vocal learning by Grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). J. Comp. Psych. 110:286-297.

Warren, D.K., Patterson, D.K., and Pepperberg, I.M. (1996). Mechanisms of American English vowel production in a Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus). Auk 113:41-58.

Pepperberg, I.M. (1994) Numerical competence in an African Grey parrot. J. Comp. Psych. 108:36-44.

Patterson, D.K. and Pepperberg, I.M. (1994) A comparative study of human and parrot phonation: I. Acoustic and articulatory correlates of vowels. JASA. 96:634-648.

Pepperberg, I.M. (1992) Proficient performance of a conjunctive, recursive task by an African Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus). J. Comp. Psych. 106:295-305.

Pepperberg, I.M. (1992) A synthesis of ethology and psychology: Effects of social interaction on learning in avian species. Proceedings from 1985 Symposium, Animal Behavior Society, The Inevitable Bond, H. Davis and D. Balfour, eds., Cambridge University Press.

Pepperberg, I.M. (1991) Learning to communicate: The effects of social interaction. Perspectives in Ethology, P.H. Klopfer and P.P.G. Bateson, eds., Plenum.

Pepperberg, I.M. and Schinke-Llano, L. (1991). Language acquisition and use in a bilingual environment: A framework for studying birdsong in zones of sympatry. A peer-reviewed Essay on Contemporary Issues in Ethology, 89:1-28.

Pepperberg, I.M. (1990). An investigation into the cognitive capacities of an African Grey Parrot (Psittacus erithacus). Advances in Study of Behavior, P.J.B. Slater, J.S. Rosenblatt, C. Beer, eds., Academic Press.

Speaking Engagements

To stay up-to-date on Dr. Pepperberg’s schedule of upcoming events, please check this page.