Desmond Ong
Desmond C. Ong, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
University of Texas at Austin

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    I am recruiting a Ph.D. student to start in Fall 2024 (see the Psych Department website for application details). [Deadline: Nov 15, 2023]
  • Oct 2023: Check out our recent paper on Using Large Language Models in psychology, published in Nature Reviews Psychology! In it we discuss the many promises (and challenges) in using LLMs in applications in psychology.

  • April 2023: Starting an exciting project in collaboration with Toyota Research Institute on developing interventions to increase empathy! Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Sep 2022: My paper, "Applying Probabilistic Programming to Affective Computing", was selected for the Best of IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing 2021 Paper Collection!

  • Aug 2022: Started at UT Austin!

I am a cognitive scientist interested in how people (and computers) reason about other people: how they think and what they feel.

I am an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and am associated with the inter-departmental Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Computational Linguistics group at UT.

Prior to joining UT, I was an Assistant Professor at the National University of Singapore, and a Research Scientist at the Institute for High Performance Computing (IHPC), A*STAR Singapore.

I earned my Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Computer Science from Stanford University. For my dissertation research, I worked primarily with Noah Goodman (Computation and Cognition Lab) and Jamil Zaki (Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab). I also hold an undergraduate degree in Economics (summa cum laude) and Physics (magna cum laude) from Cornell University.

I was one of the Conference Organizers for CogSci 2023, and previously also organized a local meetup in Singapore for CogSci2021.

I was one of the Program Chairs for Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction 2022 (ACII 2022), where I pushed for the introduction of Ethical Impact Statements and wrote the Instructions for Ethical Impact Statement for ACII 2022.
The following year, I was the Ethics Chair of ACII2023, where we developed this initiative further, adding an Ethical Impact Statement Guidelines and Checklist, and an in-depth Writing an Ethical Impact Statement for ACII2023).

I am part of the Ethics Committee of a non-profit, The Hume Initiative, where we are interested in charting an ethical path for empathic AI. (See Jan 2022 Washington Post article (paywall))
Media mentions and features:
If the research that I do sounds interesting, I am always looking for enthusiastic and capable psychologists, cognitive scientists, computer scientists, as well as researchers in closely-related fields (e.g., linguistics), to join my team or to collaborate.


I am currently teaching two classes (with the same class number):

Previously at the National University of Singapore, I taught a class on Affective Computing, and a first-year undergraduate course covering statistics and data analytics in R.

Archived News

  • June 2022: Honored to receive a Faculty Excellence Teaching Award from the National University of Singapore!

  • Feb-Apr 2022: We had three papers recently accepted! The first, in Social and Cognitive Neuroscience, joint work with Shir Genzer, Anat Perry and Jamil Zaki using EEG to study empathic accuracy.
    The second in Nature Human Behaviour, a herculean effort led by Amit Goldenberg and Jonas Schöne on emotion perception of emotional expressions over time.
    And the third, an intervention to for improving empathy in middle school, another years-long study led by Erika Weisz, will come out in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

  • Mar 2022: Giving an invited talk at SAS 2022! Hope to see you there!

  • Oct 2021: Honored to receive the Best Paper Award from ACII 2021 for my paper on Ethical Guidelines for Affective Computing!

  • July 2021: Singapore CogSci Meetup on Tuesday 27th July, at NUS Campus! Please register at the above link if you're interested to attend, as we have to account for social distancing requirements.
    As CogSci is being held virtually this year, some members of CogSci proposed to organize local meetups, subject to local pandemic restrictions, as a chance for cognitive science researchers to present research in-person. Please also see this page for more information about this initiative.
    Looking forward to seeing everyone there (and at our Affective Cognition workshop!)

  • June 2021: My Final Year Project student Kong Yan San has won the SoC Outstanding Computing Project Prize! Congratulations to Yan San!

  • April 2021: We just got awarded a large (~$10M over 4 years) grant from AI Singapore, together with David Hsu and colleagues from NUS, SMU, SUTD, and A*STAR, to build better collaborative AI! Am excited about the potential research opportunities with these amazing colleagues!

  • April 2021: We are organizing a workshop titled Interdisciplinary Advances in Affective Cognition at CogSci this year, where we want to bring together a diverse group of scholars on the topic of affective cognition. Looking forward to seeing everyone there! (Also, we have two CogSci papers from my lab, on counterfactual emotional reasoning and on observational causal learning. Do check them out!)

  • February 2021: I will be giving an invited talk at the Emotion Preconference at SPSP, which will be held virtually on 10 Feb. Hope to see you there!

  • December 2020: Grateful to be able to round off the year with an accepted AERA Open paper (on a really cool explore-exploit-prune model of student resource regulation, together with Patricia Chen and colleagues) and an AAAI paper (on aspect-based sentiment analysis, led by my student Zhengxuan). I hope everyone reading this stays safe as we come to the end of a very difficult year. And here's hoping that 2021 will be a much better year!

  • August 2020: My Final Year Project student Terence Lim has won the NUS Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Prize! Congratulations to Terence!