Tao Gao


Assistant Professor
Ph.D.: Cognitive Psychology, Yale
Primary Area: Cognitive Psychology
Home Department: Statistics
Email: tao.gao@stat.ucla.edu

Research and Teaching Interests:

Dr. Gao explores how human intelligence is deeply grounded in visual perception. One major theme of his research is to reverse engineer human intuitive social commonsense. By merely seeing static images or a short video, humans can spontaneously perceive a rich set of social concepts, including animacy, intentions, beliefs, desires, emotions, personality and even morality. The goals of his research include (a) revealing human perception as a type of intelligence, which understands “what” in a scene through recovering “why” and “how” a scene is generated; (b) Reverse-engineering perceptual intelligence through cognitive modeling; (c) Injecting perceptually-grounded intelligence into machines so that they can possess human-like commonsense, communicate and collaborate with humans in safe and trustworthy ways.

He currently offers two courses:

Stat232C: Cogntive Artifiticial Intelligence

Comm188C: Visual Communication


Dr. Gao explores how human intelligence is be grounded in visual perception. He obtained his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale in 2011. He  was a post-doctoral fellow in the Center of Brain, Mind and Machine at MIT between 2011-2015. He then worked at GE research as a computer vision scientist between 2015-2017. He is jointly appointed to the departments of Statistics, Communication and Psychology at UCLA since 2017.

Curriculum Vitae

Representative Publications:

Xu, Tang, Zhou, Shen, & Gao. T. (2017). Seeing “what” through “why”: Probing the causal structure of hierarchical motion. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146, 896-909.

Gao, T., Scholl, B. J., & McCarthy, G. (2012). Dissociating the detection of intentionality from animacy in the right posterior superior temporal sulcus. Journal of Neuroscience, 32, 14276-14280.

Gao, T., McCarthy, G., & Scholl, B. J. (2010). The wolfpack effect: Perception of animacy irresistibly influences interactive behavior. Psychological Science, 21, 1845-1853.

Gao, T., Newman, G. E., & Scholl, B. J. (2009). The psychophysics of chasing: A case study in the perception of animacy. Cognitive Psychology, 59, 154-179.

personal website