Curiosity Expert: Dr. Francine Patterson
President, Director of Research, Co-Founder, The Gorilla Foundation / Koko.org, and Koko.
- Dr. Francine Patterson on YouTube
- Papers, Books and Presentations
- Dr. Francine "Penny" Patterson Pictures
- KokoBlog (Research/Care) on koko.org
- KokoFlix (video blog) on koko.org
- KokoPix (photo blog) on koko.org
- Follow the Gorilla Foundation on Facebook and Twitter!
"Gorillas are going to be gone before we know it. If we want to save the species, we must act now and utilize all the help that Koko can provide." Penny Patterson
Given Francine Grace Penelope Patterson's fascination with animals from the time she could crawl, it is no surprise that, as a Ph.D. student in Psychology at Stanford University in 1971, she became fascinated with the largely-unstudied gorilla. Inspired by the work of Allen and Beatrice Gardner teaching language to the chimpanzee Washoe, she visited the San Francisco Zoo with advisor Dr. Karl Pribram when the gorilla Koko was a few months old, and proposed a research project with a goal of exploring gorillas' capacity for language. A language project was approved when Koko was a year old and recovering in the zoo nursery from a disease that nearly took her life 6 months earlier. Even though gorillas had a poor reputation for learning at that time, Koko's abilities were significant and a collaboration with gorillas began that gradually opened Dr. Patterson's mind and revolutionized her worldview.
Dr. Patterson received her A.B. in Psychology in 1970 from the University of Illinois, and her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Stanford in 1979. The theme of her dissertation: Linguistic Capabilities of a Lowland Gorilla.
In 1976, Dr. Patterson joined with Dr. Ronald Cohn, and the late Barbara Hiller to establish the Gorilla Foundation. Its mission is to bring interspecies communication to the public, to save gorillas from extinction and to inspire our children to create a sustainable future for all great apes (including humans).
Located in northern California, the Foundation became home to Koko and Michael, a young male gorilla from Cameroon who had been orphaned by the bushmeat trade but found a safe haven as a companion to Koko when he was 3-1/2 years old. They were joined by Ndume, a male gorilla who came from the Cincinnati Zoo in 1991. Michael passed away in 2000, but his spirit lives on through his legacy including amazing paintings and stories that he shared. The Foundation's website, www.koko.org, provides a comprehensive overview of the Foundations' programs and offers a rich collection of video and photos documenting the lives and relationships of Koko, Michael and Ndume.
Today Dr. Patterson serves as President and Director of Research of the Gorilla Foundation. She is the author of several books, including The Education of Koko (with Eugene Linden), Koko's Kitten, Koko's Story and Koko Love. Her work was the subject of a 1999 NATURE documentary, "A Conversation with Koko," and a video version of Koko's Kitten was produced. Project Koko has been the subject of numerous articles in the popular press, and Dr. Patterson has authored and co-authored nearly 50 studies published in scholarly journals and books.
Co- founder Dr. Ronald Cohn[AG1] serves as Vice President, Photo-Documentarian and Treasurer of the Foundation, and occupies the role of "Koko's Dad." He has been the principal photographer and videographer of the Project since it's inception. Thanks to his work, the story of Koko has been thoroughly documented, so that it can be shared with the public to inspire understanding of gorillas. Dr. Cohn's work also serves as a unique resource for scientists from many disciplines for generations to come.
Over the years, we have discovered that with her abilities, Koko has assumed a role as ambassador between our species and quite naturally instills conservation values in our youth. Project Koko has evolved from the study of gorilla language capabilities and interspecies communication to the study of how providing gorillas with a shared language can enrich both species and create the empathy needed to save their species from imminent extinction by ours.
Awards and Honors:
- Edmund J. James Scholar, University of Illinois
- Phi Beta Kappa, University of Illinois, 1969
- Phi Kappa Phi (Psychology), University of Illinois, 1969
- Alpha Lambda Delta (Women's Scholastic), University of Illinois
- NSF Undergraduate Summer Fellowship, University of Illinois.
- NIH Doctoral Traineeship, Developmental Psychology, Stanford University, 1970-1974.
- National Geographic Society Grants for the Study of Linguistic and Behavioral Development of the Lowland Gorilla, 1976-1983, 1985.
- Rolex Award for Enterprise for the Study of Linguistic Communication and Higher Cognitive Functioning in the Gorilla, 1978.
- Preservation of the Animal World Society (PAWS) Award for Outstanding Professional Service, 1986.
- New York Academy of Sciences Fifteenth Annual Children's Science Book Award, April 30, 1986: Honorable mention for Koko's Kitten (Scholastic).
- Texas Bluebonnet Award, 1987-88 for Koko's Kitten (Scholastic).
- CINE Golden Eagle Award, 1989 for Koko's Kitten video (Churchill).
- American Film and Video Festival Blue Ribbon Award, 1989 for Koko's Kitten video (Churchill).
- Parent's Choice Foundation Award, 1989 for Koko's Kitten video (Churchill).
- Chicago International Festival of Children's Films, 1989 Second Prize for Koko's Kitten video (Churchill).
- New Jersey Library Association's Garden State Children's Book Award, 1990 for Koko's Story (Scholastic).
- The Kilby International Award, 1997.
- Ark Trust Genesis Award, 2000 to Francine Patterson (non-media recipient) and the PBS/NATURE Documentary, "A Conversation with Koko," (media recipient). This annual event pays tribute to media productions that promote animal protection and stewardship of the planet.