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With the help of an African Grey parrot named Alex, Irene Pepperberg, Ph.D. has conducted years of research that helped the world understand the unique and amazing communication abilities of Grey parrots.

In this podcast, Dr. Pepperberg shares the results of more than four decades of her research into the cognitive and communitive capabilities of Grey parrots.

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  • How Dr. Pepperberg’s research influenced how scientists perceive avian intelligence
  • Why Pepperberg used the model/rival technique to train Alex
  • About Alex’s ability to identify shapes, colors, and sizes, and count objects
  • The pros and cons of having an African grey parrot as a pet

Dr. Pepperberg completed her studies in chemistry at Harvard University in the 70s. While finishing her degree, Pepperberg became interested in the use of sign language and computer interfaces and studied the available data on interspecies communication. Her ultimate objective was to establish two-way communication with a Grey parrot that was similar to ongoing efforts with chimpanzees and dolphins.

An African Grey parrot named Alex joined Pepperberg in her research on animal cognition and communication skills. With training by Pepperberg, Alex developed the ability to express more than 100 vocal labels for objects, colors, and actions. He understood the concepts of materials, same and different, relative size, and absence/none. His decades of work and achievements with Dr. Pepperberg demonstrated that Grey parrots have an intellect much greater than what was originally perceived.

Dr. Pepperberg believes that Alex had the intelligence of a five-year-old child and the speech abilities of an 18-month to two-year-old child. She continued to train him using a modeling technique to demonstrate to Alex the things she wanted him to learn such as counting, colors, and shapes. One person would model the desired behavior with another individual and they would exchange roles as Alex observed their interactions. They would occasionally answer a question incorrectly to demonstrate to Alex that only the right answer was acceptable. Sadly, Alex passed away unexpectedly in 2007.

In the scientific world, the work done by Dr. Pepperberg has increased the awareness of bird intelligence. She continues to develop research possibilities in pitch perception and visual optic illusions. With the assistance of Griffin, an African Grey parrot who was hatched in 1995, Pepperberg plans to complete her studies on delayed gratification to add to existing data in the field of language learning of animals

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