What are the cognitive foundations of cultural learning?

Cristine Legare is an associate professor of psychology and the director of the Evolution, Variation, and Ontogeny of Learning Laboratory at The University of Texas at 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.

About Cristine | CV (PDF)
Evolution, Variation, and Ontogeny of Learning Lab
RISE Project
Teaching Info

Research Interests

Ontogeny of cultural learning

Humans are a social species and much of what we know we learn from others. Examining how our universal cognitive system enables our capacity to use cultural tools, to engage in cultural innovation, and to become members of diverse cultural communities provides unique insight into cognitive and cultural evolution. Cristine is working to develop a cognitive developmental account of how children flexibly use imitation and innovation as dual engines of cultural learning. 

Reasoning about causality

A fundamental task for all humans is explaining why things happen. In ongoing programs of research, Cristine studies: how causal explanatory reasoning develops, how proximate and ultimate explanations for the same events coexist in individual minds, and how we reason in the absence of causal information.

Development of scientific reasoning

Children actively seek to understand the world around them—they seek explanations for why and how things happen. In ongoing work, Cristine examines how children’s explanations and exploratory behavior work in tandem to guide their causal learning and scientific reasoning, and the implications of this process for improving science education in preschools and children’s science museums.


Understanding how we reason about biological processes like illness, contamination, and evolution provides insight into the nature and development of core concepts and categories. Cristine examines how biological reasoning develops and how cognition and culture co-construct biological thought.