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

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  • October 2023: Starting a project with Microsoft Research entitled "Large Language Models and Digital Empathy"!

  • 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 a 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. 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 CogSci 2021.

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 ACII 2023, where we developed this initiative further, adding an Ethical Impact Statement Guidelines and Checklist, and an in-depth guide to Writing an Ethical Impact Statement for ACII 2023.

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))
My research has been generously funded by Toyota Research Institute, Microsoft Research, AI Singapore, and Singapore's National Robotics Programme.
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:

  • PSY 371Q Ethics in Behavioral Data Science
    • Next offered: Fall 2024
    • Past offerings: [previously called PSY341K Ethics in Data Science and Affective Computing] Fall 2023, Spring 2023
    • I wrote a blogpost on an writing exericse using AI that I developed in this class.
  • PSY 341K Text Analysis for Behavioral Data Science
    • Next offered: Spring 2024
    • Past offerings: Spring 2023
  • Course Numbering at UT: The first digit is credit hours, and the vast majority of courses are "3" hours. The second digit indicates the "rank" (0-1, introductory and meant for freshman/sophomores; 2-7, junior/senior; and 8-9, graduate). PSY 341K is our department course number for new courses before they are permanently added to the catalog.

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!