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Research Assistant Professor

Dr Cao Yuan Sally
PolyU Scholars Hub

Dr Sally CAO

Research Assistant Professor

BSocSc (CityU), MNeuro (UQ), MClinPsy (UQ), PhD (UQ)


Dr Yuan Cao (Sally) first completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the City University of Hong Kong, before receiving a master’s degree in neuroscience, another master’s degree in clinical psychology, and a PhD in psychology from The University of Queensland in Australia.

Dr Cao worked as a practising psychologist at a community health clinic and a researcher at an NGO in Australia, before returning to Hong Kong to work in academia. Her work experience across different settings has inspired her to conduct basic research with the potential of improving practice in the future. She is also interested in training and teaching students to develop a curious, scientist mindset when serving clients in clinical practice.

Most of her research is centred around social cognition (i.e., the ability to understand and relate to other people), which is relevant to both healthy populations and people with different mental health problems (e.g., schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, or autism). She uses a combination of behavioural tasks (e.g., computer-based games, questionnaires) and brain-imaging techniques (e.g., fMRI) to better understand social cognition across the lifespan.


Education and Academic Qualifications

  • Bachelor of Social Sciences, City University of Hong Kong
  • Master of Neuroscience, The University of Queensland
  • Master of Clinical Psychology, The University of Queensland
  • Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Queensland

Research Interests

  • Healthy aging
  • Mental health
  • Social cognitive neuroscience
  • Developmental disorders

Research Output

  • Canty, A. L., Cao, Y., Neumann, D., & Shum, D. H. K. (2021). The functional significance of cognitive empathy and theory of mind in early and chronic schizophrenia. Psychiatry Research, 299, Article 113852.
  • Zong, J., Cao, X., Cao, Y., Shi, Y., Wang, Y., Yan, C., Abela, J. R. Z., Gan, Y., Gong, Q., & Chan, R. C. K. (2010). Coping flexibility in college students with depressive symptoms. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes, 8, Article 66.
  • Cao, Y., Yusri, N. M., Powell, T., & Cunnington, R. (2019). Neural and behavioral markers of observed pain of older adults. Neuropsychologia, 131, 84-90.
  • Zhao, Q., Neumann, D. L., Cao, Y., Baron-Cohen, S., Yan, C., Chan, R. C. K., & Shum, D. H. K. (2019). Culture-sex interaction and the self-report empathy in Australians and Mainland Chinese. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, Article 396.
  • Waters, A. M., Cao, Y., Kershaw, R., Kerbler, G. M., Shum, D. H. K., Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., Craske, M. G., Bradley, B. P., Mogg, K., Pine, D. S., & Cunnington, R. (2018). Changes in neural activation underlying attention processing of emotional stimuli following treatment with positive search training in anxious children. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 55, 22-30.
  • Zhao, Q., Neumann, D. L., Cao, X., Baron-Cohen, S., Sun, X., Cao, Y., Yan, C., Wang, Y., Shao, L., & Shum, D. H. K. (2018). Validation of the empathy quotient in Mainland China. Journal of Personality Assessment100(3), 333-342.
  • Cao, Y., Dingle, G., Chan, G. C. K., & Cunnington, R. (2017). Low mood leads to increased empathic distress at seeing others’ pain. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, Article 2024.
  • Cao, Y., Contreras-Huerta, L. S., McFadyen, J. J., & Cunnington, R. (2015). Racial bias in neural response to others’ pain is reduced with other-race contact. Cortex, 70, 68-78.
  • Yan, C., Cao, Y., Zhang, Y., Song, L., Cheung, E. F. C., & Chan, R. C. K. (2012). Trait and state positive emotional experience in schizophrenia: A meta-analysis. PLOS ONE, 7, Article e40672.
  • Yan, C., Liu, W., Cao, Y., & Chan, R. C. K. (2011). Self-reported pleasure experience and motivation in individuals with schizotypal personality disorders proneness. East Asian Arch Psychiatry, 21, 115-122. 

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