0_Fran and Christina, Up CloseBY COURTNEY MORRISION, Staff Reporter

Professors at the University of Michigan-Dearborn spend a lot of time teaching classes, but that is not all they do.

Research is a large part of their commitment to the university, ranging from refugee work, using art to help school children express emotions and working with research chimpanzees, just to name a few projects UM-Dearborn faculty are involved in.

All professors at UM-Dearborn are required to do some type of research of their choice.

“Professors are hired to teach and run classes, but that only constitutes 40 percent of their contract,” CASL Dean Martin Hershock said. “An additional 40 percent is that they will be active and productive scholars. The remaining 20 percent of their time is to be devoted to service to the university and its students.”

Professor Francine Dolins, an associate professor of psychology, has been researching chimpanzees in relation to different types of psychology since her graduate school days.

Dolins works on the interaction of cognitive processes and environment in animals’ ability to problem solve.

Dolins utilizes virtual reality with adult humans, children and chimpanzees for the research.

According to Dolins’ research website, virtual reality is used for a variety of reasons.

“Virtual reality provides a controlled, flexible means to present novel environments varying in size, complexity and landmark types, and allows determination of how spatial information is utilized.”

Currently her work takes several pathways. One part of her work is with bonobos, a type of chimpanzee that are indigenous to the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are only an estimated 10,000 left in the wild, making them an endangered species.

The bonobos she works with reside in Iowa in the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. Bonobos at the sanctuary are used strictly for cognitive research and non-invasive research.

These bonobos are “joystick trained” as well as “lexigram trained.” This means that they can press a symbol in order to associate things like water with a symbol.


Dolins visits the sanctuary every few weeks to work with the bonobos on spatial skills. Each bonobo has their own personality which makes working with them a unique task.

“Nyota is one of the bonobos who is incredibly quiet. He is like a Romeo,” said Dolins. “He just wants you to look and talk to him. If you ask him if he wants to hear a secret he puts his hand up to his ear, ready to hear the secret.”  

Dolins said working with the bonobos can be a challenge.

“Some days they are fine and they will sit down and do the work for the food. Other times they are grumpy or other times someone else in the group is grumpy.

“They can be dangerous,” Dolins said. “Kanzi, the one who is the most trained, will sometimes get a big mouth full of water and then spit in my face.”

Another aspect of Dolins’ work is studying lemurs in Madagascar. Her fieldwork consists of traveling to Madagascar and going into their forests to find the lemurs. Once she finds the lemurs she follows them for about twelve to thirteen hours a day.

Dolins work has been published in a wide range of publications and assists in her teaching of several classes here at the university, including animal behavior, animal intelligence and experimental psychology.