Computational Affective Cognition

My main research focus is in understanding intuitive theories of emotion; that is, how do we reason about our own and other people's emotions? and, how can we build computational models of such reasoning? Here is a sampling of some of my current research projects and directions: (most done jointly with Noah Goodman and Jamil Zaki)

  • How do we reason about people's reactions to event outcomes? and how do we integrate information from different sources of information about someone's emotions?

    • See Ong, Zaki, and Goodman (2015)
    • Presented in a symposium ("Beliefs About Emotion: Outcomes at the Individual, Interpersonal, and Cultural Levels") at SPSP 2015
    • and in a symposium ("Understanding Affective Cognition: Frontiers in modeling reasoning about others' emotions") that I chaired at CogSci 2014

  • What if the outcome was really close? (see Ong, Goodman, & Zaki, 2015)

  • How does this reasoning differ when we reason about other people versus reasoning about ourselves? (Ong, Goodman, & Zaki, 2017)

    • Presented as a talk ("Happier than thou: an egocentric positivity bias in emotion attribution")
      in a symposium that I chaired ("How people think they're better than others and why it matters: consequences for social relationships, emotions, the courtroom, and online romance") at SPSP 2016

  • How do we reason about how emotions lead to others' actions?
    (Ong, Zaki, & Goodman, 2016)

  • Empathic accuracy: how accurate are we at judging others' emotions? (including joint work with Hillary Devlin, Jamil Zaki, and June Gruber).
    (Devlin, Zaki, Ong, & Gruber, 2014, 2016)

  • Developmental Theory of Emotion: How do young children reason about others' emotions? (joint work with Mika Asaba and Hyowon Gweon)
    (Ong*, Asaba*, & Gweon, 2016)

  • How is affective cognition affected in mental disorders? (ongoing!)

My work consists of a mix of behavioral experiments and computational modeling. I am also interested in developing better computer science tools to analyze emotion from natural language. And I'm always toying around with ways to apply my research, be it in computer science/robotics applications (affective computing/affective robotics) or potential clinical applications (computational psychiatry).

Other research interests

  • Empathy and social support in real-life and online social networks: I use social network analyses to look at how emotions, empathy, and social support propagate within a social network.
    Main Collaborators: Sylvia Morelli, Rucha Makati, Matthew Jackson, Jamil Zaki
    (Morelli, Ong, et al, 2017)

  • Theory of Mind: how we reason about others' mental states.
    Main Collaborators: Michael C. Frank, Jonathan Phillips, Rebecca Saxe
    (Phillips*, Ong*, et al, 2015)

  • Prosociality: why are we nice to others?
    Main Collaborators: Jamil Zaki, June Gruber, Erik Nook, et al.
    (Nook, Ong, et al, 2016; Ong, Zaki, & Gruber, 2017; Ong, 2011 undergraduate thesis)

  • Sentiment analysis: Using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Natural Language Understanding (NLU) tools to study how people express sentiment / emotions in natural language.


In the past, prior to my starting graduate school, in roughly reverse chronological order, I have done research in behavioral economics, vision, condensed matter physics, optics, and material science.


  1. Morelli, S. A., Ong, D. C., Makati, R., Jackson, M. O., & Zaki, J. (in press). Empathy and well-being correlate with centrality in different social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
    [ pdf ] [ supplemental materials ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]
    [ Stanford News Release ] [ press ]

  2. Ong, D. C., Goodman, N. D., & Zaki, J. (2017). Happier than thou? A self-enhancement bias in emotion attribution. Emotion.
    [ pre-journal-formatted version ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]

  3. Ong, D. C., Zaki., J., & Gruber, J. (2017). Increased cooperative behavior across remitted bipolar I disorder and major depression: Insights utilizing a behavioral economic trust game. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126(1), 1-7.
    [ pre-journal-formatted version ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]

  4. Chen, P., Chavez, O., Ong, D. C., & Gunderson, B. (2017). Strategic Resource Use for Learning: A Self-administered Intervention that Guides Effective Resource Use Enhances Academic Performance. Psychological Science, 28(6), 774-785.
    [ pre-journal-formatted version ] [ supporting data and materials (link on OSF, the Open Science Framework; access available upon request) ] [ journal website ]
    [ Quartz article ] [ Stanford News Release ] [ Psychological Science News Release ] [ U.S. News & World Report ] [ Business Insider (German) ]
    [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ]

  5. Ong, D. C.*, Asaba, M.*, & Gweon, H. (2016). Young children and adults integrate past expectations and current outcomes to reason about others' emotions. In Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 135-140.
    * equal contribution
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ supporting data and materials ]

  6. Ong, D. C., Zaki, J. & Goodman, N. D. (2016). Emotions in lay explanations of behavior. In Proceedings of the 38th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 360-365.
    [ pdf ] [ supporting data and materials ]

  7. Devlin, H. C., Zaki., J., Ong, D. C., & Gruber, J. (2016). Tracking the emotional highs, but missing the lows: Hypomania Risk is associated with positively biased empathic accuracy inference. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 40(1), 72-79.
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ pre-journal-formatted version ] [ journal website ]

  8. Nook, E., Ong, D. C., Morelli, S. A., Mitchell, J. P., & Zaki, J. (2016). Prosocial Conformity: Social norms motivate broad generosity and empathy. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(8), 1045-1062. doi: 10.1177/0146167298248001
    [ pre-journal-formatted version ] [ supplemental materials ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]
    [ Scientific American article ] [ press (aps link) ]

  9. Ong, D. C., Zaki, J., & Goodman, N. D. (2015). Affective Cognition: Exploring lay theories of emotion. Cognition, 143, 141-162.
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]

  10. Ong, D. C., Goodman, N. D., & Zaki, J. (2015). Near-misses sting even when they are uncontrollable. In Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, 1775-1780.
    [ pdf ] [ supporting data and materials ]

  11. Phillips, J.*, Ong, D. C.*, Surtees, A. D. R., Xin, Y., Williams, S., Saxe, R., & Frank, M. C. (2015). A second look at automatic false belief representation: reconsidering Kovács, Téglás, and Endress (2010). Psychological Science, 26 (9), 1353-1367.
    * equal contribution
    [ pre-journal-formatted version ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]
    [ Blogpost by senior author Mike Frank , followup blogpost ]

  12. Devlin, H. C., Zaki., J., Ong, D. C., & Gruber, J. (2014). Not as Good as You Think? Trait Positive Emotion is Associated with Increased Self-Reported Empathy but Decreased Empathic Performance. PLOS ONE, 9(10), e110470.
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ supporting data and materials ] [ journal website ]
    [ Forbes ] [ HuffPost ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ] [ press ]
    [ Nov 2014, Made it to #13 on the front page of Reddit, and #1 on r/Science, with over 6,600 upvotes and 800 comments ]
    [ Mar 2017, Made it to #1 on the front page of Reddit, with over 26,600 upvotes and 1.3k comments ]


  13. Previous work in physics and optics

  14. Leahy, B. D., Cheng, X., Ong, D. C., Liddell-Watson, C., & Cohen, I. (2013) Enhancing rotational diffusion using oscillatory shear. Physical Review Letters, 110, 228301
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ journal website ] [ press ]

  15. Ong, D. C., Solanki, S., Liang, X., & Xu, X. (2012). Analysis of laser speckle severity, granularity, and anisotropy using the power spectral density in polar-coordinate representation. Optical Engineering, 51, 054301
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ journal website ]

  16. Gerbode, S. J., Ong, D. C., Liddell, C. M., & Cohen, I. (2010). Dislocations and vacancies in two-dimensional mixed crystals of spheres and dimers. Physical Review E, 82, 041404
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ journal website ]

  17. Gerbode, S. J., Agarwal, U., Ong, D. C., Liddell, C. M., Escobedo, F., & Cohen, I. (2010). Glassy Dislocation Dynamics in 2-D Colloidal Dimer Crystals. Physical Review Letters, 105, 078301
    [ summary ]
    [ pdf ] [ journal website ]


Affective Cognition

Near Misses hurt more!

Near misses and illusory control







Theory of Mind

Reconsidering Automatic False Belief Representation

Reconsidering Automatic False Belief Representation



Applying computational tools to study Social Support and Emotional Language Use

Predicting Mood Transitions

Predicting mood transitions from text interactions

Analyzing Social Support in an online network

Analyzing Social Support in an online network

Extracting Emotional Relations from Natural Language

Extracting Emotional Relations from Natural Language

Predicting Sentiment from Movie Reviews

Sentiment Analysis
(The work in my CS229 class project eventually contributed (in a small part) to Socher et al., 2013, although I did not contribute beyond the scope of the class project. Their work is amazing though, so check out their website here)



Past projects in physics and optics