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Sam Thellman


PhD student in Cognitive Science (main supervisor: Tom Ziemke).


The main part of my research efforts goes into investigating people’s cognition of the behavior and mind of autonomous systems, such as humanoid robots, drones and self-driving cars. People commonly view autonomous systems as fundamentally different from themselves. In particular, very few people think that robots are alive and have genuine mental states. Despite this, however, people tend to treat them as if they were living creatures endowed with mental states, such as intentions, beliefs, desires, awareness and emotions, and frequently infer reasons as explanations for their actions. In doing this, I argue, they (we) adopt what philosophers have called "the intentional stance" toward these systems.

Why study people's intentional stance toward autonomous systems?

Research from social psychology suggests that people’s judgments of behavior as intentional or unintentional plays a crucial role in forming their social understanding of the world (regardless of whether these judgments are correct). For example, the outcome of accidentally bumping into someone in the street may be rather different depending on whether the person bumped into recognizes the behavior as intentional or unintentional. I am interested in exploring the implications of this proposition in the context of social interaction with autonomous systems. To do this I work continuously on developing new methodologies drawing on human-robot interaction studies and social psychological research into attribution. Ultimately, my goal is to contribute to the solution to some of the issues that arise in social interaction with autonomous systems by studying people's folk psychological understanding of them in live-interaction scenarios.

Publications & Presentations

View my Google Scholar profile


  • Thellman, S., Hagman, W., Jonsson, E., Nilsson, L., Samulesson, E., Simonsson, C., Skönvall, J., Westin, A., & Silvervarg, A. (2018). He is not more persuasive than her - No gender biases toward robots giving speeches. Manuscript submitted for review.
  • Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (in press). The Socio-Cognitive Function of Mental State Attribution to Robots. In Social Cognition in Humans and Robots, socSMCs/EUCognition Summit, Hamburg, Germany.
  • Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (in press). Studying the Craft of Folk Psychology in HRI. In AI for Multimodal Human Robot Interaction Workshop at the Federated AI Meeting (FAIM) 2018, Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Petrovych, V., Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (in press). Human Interpretation of Goal-Directed Autonomous Car Behavior. In CogSci 2018: Changing Minds. 40th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Madison, VA. Cognitive Science Society.
  • Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (2018). Predictions and Explanations of Robot Actions are Constrained by Observers' Presuppositions about Robots. Explainable Robotic Systems workshop, HRI ’18, Chicago, IL, March 5–8.
  • Löfgren, F., Thunberg, S., & Thellman, S. (2018). LetterMoose: a Handwriting Tutor Robot. In Companion of the 2018 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, Chicago, IL, March 5-8. ACM. *Delegates' Choice Award* [Swedish media coverage of LetterMoose: LiU, P4, SVT, Corren, NT, Affärsliv, NyTeknik, DT, Voister]


  • Thellman, S., Silvervarg, A., & Ziemke, T. (2017). Folk-psychological interpretation of human vs. humanoid robot behavior: exploring the intentional stance toward robots. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1962.
  • Johansson, R., Thellman, S., Skantze, G., & Jönsson, A. (2017). Psychotherapists' interest in using the Furhat social robot for clinical training. In Proceedings of the 13th Annual SweCog Conference, Uppsala, Sweden, October 26-27 (pp. 46-48), The University of Skövde.
  • Thunberg, S., Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (2017). Don't Judge a Book by its Cover: A Study of the Social Acceptance of NAO vs. Pepper. In 5th International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction, Bielefeld, Germany, October 17-20. *Best Poster Award*
  • Thellman, S., Lundberg, J., Arvola, M., & Ziemke, T. (2017). What Is It Like to Be a Bot? Toward More Immediate Wizard-of-Oz Control in Social Human-Robot Interaction. In 5th International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction, Bielefeld, Germany, October 17-20.
  • Thellman, S., Silvervarg, A., & Ziemke, T. (2017). Lay Causal Explanations of Human vs. Humanoid Behavior. In Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents, Stockholm, September 27-30, (pp. 433–436). Springer.
  • Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (2017). Social Attitudes Toward Robots are Easily Manipulated. In Proceedings of the Companion of the 2017 ACM/IEEE International Conference on Human-Robot Interaction, Vienna, Austria, March 6-9 (pp. 299-300). ACM.


  • Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (2016). The relationship between the nature of an artificial agent's body, its social presence, and its influence on people's decisions. In Proceedings of the 12th Annual SweCog Conference, Gothenburg, Sweden, October 6-7 (pp. 28-29), The University of Skövde.
  • Thellman, S., Silvervarg, A., Gulz, A., & Ziemke, T. (2016). Physical vs. Virtual Agent Embodiment and Effects on Social Interaction. In Proceedings of the 16th International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents, Los Angeles, CA, September 20-23 (pp. 412-415), Springer International Publishing.
  • Thellman, S., & Ziemke, T. (2016). Assessing social attitudes toward robots and the impact of anthropomorphism. Poster session presented at the 25th IEEE International Symposium on Robot and Human Interactive Communication (RO-MAN), New York, NY, August 26-31.
  • Thellman, S. (2016). Social Dimensions of Robotic versus Virtual Embodiment, Presence and Influence (Master's thesis). Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-130645


  • Thellman, S. (2015). Social attitudes toward robots with different degrees of human-likeness. In Proceedings of the 11th Annual SweCog Conference, Skövde, Sweden, June 15-16 (p. 21), The University of Skövde.
  • Thellman, S. (2014). True Belief at the End of the Tether: the Quest for Universal Epistemic Justification. (Bachelor's thesis). Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-112585
  • Thellman, S. (2013). Assessing the Representational Capacity of Haptics in a Human-Computer Interface (Bachelor's thesis). Retrieved from http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-102455
Email: sam.thellman@liu.se
Tel: +46 13282410
Visiting address: Room 3F.470, Dept. of Computer and Information Science, Linköping University

Page responsible: Sam Thellman
Last updated: 2018-06-29