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Many Minds

Apr 22, 2020

Welcome back! Today’s episode is a conversation with Cristine Legare. Cristine is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research focuses on how our minds allow us to do culture—to learn it, to create it, and to pass it on. Among other things, we talk about cumulative culture and the human capacities for imitation and innovation. We talk about the power of ritual and about thorny questions surrounding human uniqueness. We touch on work that Cristine and her team have done in Vanuatu. And we muse about the problems facing psychology—in particular the so-called WEIRD problem. For those who may not know, this is the issue of psychologists unduly focusing on a thin slice of humanity—namely, Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic (WEIRD) folks. I found Cristine’s perspective on this issue—and really on all these issues—super insightful.

Without further ado, here is my conversation with Dr. Cristine Legare. Hope you enjoy it! And please be well.


A transcript of this episode is available here


Notes and links

2:35 – An article about “cumulative culture.”

3:25 –There is debate about whether any non-human animals show evidence of cumulative culture. Here is one review of the topic.

6:30 – A paper by Dr. Legare and a colleague on imitation and innovation as “dual engines of cultural learning.”

10:53 – One of Dr. Legare’s studies examining children’s flexible understanding of when to imitate faithfully.

13:07 – A popular article about the puzzle of why chimps in Zambia started to put grass in their ears. The primary research was reported here.

14:25 – The literature on so-called “over-imitation” is substantial. Here is a recent review.

19:14 – An encyclopedia article by Dr. Legare and a colleague on ritual. See also their paper on the social functions of rituals.

25:45 – Here is the original paper report on the “illusion of explanatory depth.”

28:42 – A paper on how a culture’s history of migration affects how often its members smile.

34:45 – This article describes the puzzle of chimpanzees throwing rocks at trees.

40:18 – This paper by Joe Henrich and colleagues is the source of the acronym WEIRD—that is, Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic—and is one of the most cited and discussed papers in the last decade of psychology. Here is a recent popular article on the current state of the WEIRD problem. Finally, see this paper by Dr. Legare and colleagues about the WEIRD bias in developmental psychology.

49:00 – Dr. Legare has done a number of studies in Vanuatu, a culturally diverse archipelago in the South Pacific.

49:32 – A study by Dr. Legare and colleagues comparing triadic interactions in the US and in Vanuatu.

55:51 – Barbara Rogoff, mentioned here, has done a range of important work on learning styles across cultures. See, for example, her book, The Cultural Nature of Human Development.

59:55 – A study by Dr. Legare and colleagues showing that adults in the US and Vanuatu differ in how they evaluate the intelligence of conforming vs non-conforming children.

Dr. Legare’s end-of-show recommendations:

A good summary of some of the research we discussed by Dr. Legare and her colleagues can be found here. See also the following books:

The Secret of Our Success (2018), by Joe Henrich

Cognitive Gadgets (2018), by Cecilia Heyes

A Different Kind of Animal (2018), by Robert Boyd

Minds Make Societies (2018), by Pascal Boyer


The best ways to keep up with Dr. Legare’s research:


Many Minds is a project of the Diverse Intelligences Summer Institute (DISI) (, which is made possible by a generous grant from the Templeton World Charity Foundation to UCLA. It is hosted by Kensy Cooperrider, with creative support from DISI Directors Erica Cartmill and Jacob Foster, and Associate Director Hilda Loury. Our artwork is by Ben Oldroyd ( Our transcripts are created by Sarah Dopierala (

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