Research Projects
Mentalization process of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorders and autism: a study of eye movement analysis using Hidden Markov Models

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☑ MRes[Med] ☑ URIS

Introduction and purpose of the study:
Mentalization, the ability to infer intentions, emotions and beliefs of others, is one of the key domains of social cognition. Social cognitive function impairments have been found in patients with Autistic spectrum disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorders. However, none has been conducted to examine the impairments of mentalization trans-diagnotistically. The eye gaze perception task, developed by our team, examines whether others are looking at ourselves, is a relatively simple intentional judgement tasks. We found that schizophrenia patients are more likely to judge others are looking at self and this tendency is related with the severity of psychotic symptoms. Comis strip is a more complex form of intentional judegement tasks and we have also found that patients with schizophrenia had more impairments compared than healthy controls.

The purpose of this study is to examine the differential mentalization impairment and visual information processing patterns during the mentalization process of patients across different psychiatric conditions including schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder and autistic spectrum disorders. Three different intentional judgement tasks will be used. The differential contribution of the symptomatology and cognitive functions to the mentalizing impairment and eye movement patterns may help to further our understanding of the underlying psychophysical mechanisms of the different conditions. The possibility of using the eye movement patterns during the task in classification the conditions would also be explored.

Study play and methodology:
Age and gender matched patients with ASD, bipolar affective disorders, schizophrenia and healthy controls will be recruited. Face-to-face interviews will be conducted for clinical symptoms assessment, cognitive function assessments and mentalization assessments. Three behavioural tasks will be used including eye gaze perception tasks, comic strip task and emotional recognition task. The eye movement pattern during these tasks will be tracked and recorded using a desktop-mounted EyeLink 1000 eye tracker (SR Research). This is a video-based eye tracker with a sampling rate of 1000Hz. The software will record the saccades, fixations, and blinks during the performance of the task. Fixation, scan path and gaze strategies of participants will be established and compared between groups using both traditional predefined regions (eye area) and the Hidden Markov Model will be used to establish the specific differences of eye movement pattern between groups in relationship with the phenomenon. Students will be involved in subject recruitment and assessment, data management including eye movement pattern information.

Professor Sherry Kit Wa Chan, Department of Psychiatry

HKU Scholars Hub
Laboratory Homepage

For more information or to express interest for this project, please email the supervisor or the specified contact point in the project description.  Interested candidates are advised to enclose with your email:

  1. your CV,
  2. a brief description of your research interest and experience, and
  3. two reference letters (not required for HKUMed UG students seeking MRes[Med]/URIS projects).

Information on the research programme, funding support and admission documentations could be referenced online at the Research Postgraduate Admissions website. General admission enquiries should be directed to

HKUMed MBBS students interested in the Master of Research in Medicine (MRes[Med]) programme may visit the programme website for more information.  

HKUMed UG students interested in the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme (URIS) may visit the scheme’s website for more information.