The Foundations of Cultural Intelligence with Cristine Legare (video)

By Templeton Staff
July 8, 2021
Why have humans developed sophisticated technology over time, while chimpanzees — our closest primate relative — continue to use primitive tools?

Human thought is shaped by our interactions with other people, as well as our interactions with the products of people: cultural artifacts, technologies, and repertoires of information. By building upon each other's discoveries and behaviors over time and across cultures, humans create vast systems of knowledge that we pass on to subsequent generations.

Scientist Cristine Legare's research at The University of Texas at Austin illuminates how the near-absence of cumulative culture in other species suggests humans are unique among animals. Her research team is examining why humans have developed sophisticated technology over time, while chimpanzees — our closest primate relative — have been using and continue to use primitive tools over the same span of time.

Highlights from this installment of our award-winning “Stories of Impact” video series:

  • Human children are motivated to learn, and adults are also motivated to spend a lot of time and energy teaching them. This is very different from what's seen in any other animal species.
  • Learning and schools can be thought of as cultural transmission systems humans have developed over thousands of years. Literacy, numeracy, and more recently computer technology allow us to store, transmit, and build upon the insights of previous generations.
  • All major discoveries are the process of the synthesis and accumulation and recombination of the insights of many people working together. Valorizing the “solitary genius” is a misrepresentation of how science advances. Inclusivity and working together across cultures are key for advancement.

Learn more about the TWCF-funded research project related to this episode.

Read the transcript from the full interview conducted by journalist Richard Sergay. Featuring: Cristine Legare, professor of psychology and director of the Evolution, Variation, and Ontogeny of Learning Laboratory at UT-Austin. Her research examines how the human mind enables us to learn, create, and transmit culture. She conducts comparisons across age, culture, and species to address fundamental questions about cognitive and cultural evolution.


Templeton World Charity Foundation’s “Stories of Impact” videos by journalist and senior media executive Richard Sergay feature human stories and critical perspectives on breakthroughs about the universe’s big questions. The inspiring narratives and observations in these award-winning videos portray the individual and societal impacts of the projects that bring to life TWCF-supported research.

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