Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Cristine Legare of The University of Texas at Austin Is Helping To Change Our World

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
4 min readApr 29, 2024

Leadership is coordinating others around a collective objective that it isn’t possible to achieve through individual efforts. Leadership plays a critical role in successfully conducting scientific research, which despite stereotypes to the contrary, is a deeply collaborative endeavor.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cristine Legare of The University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Legare is a professor of psychology and the founder and director of the Center for Applied Cognitive Science at The University of Texas at Austin. Her research examines how the human mind enables us to learn, create, and transmit culture. Dr. Legare has expertise in global public health, international education, child development and cognitive science.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am interested in how we learn and teach highly complex cultural skills, including artistic and scientific skills. Studying this ancient and highly technical art form is a unique opportunity to study cultural learning and transmission. It is also an opportunity to study the role artistic traditions play in preserving cultural heritage.

What is something interesting or unexpected that you’ve found over the course of your research?

The process of learning and teaching miniature painting is heavily ritualized. Each step in the process is carefully specified and follows a specific order. The ritualization of the artistic process preserves the unique aesthetics of this tradition across generations. Innovation is for experts; it is only after mastering this art form that painters can creativity explore within the boundaries of this tradition.

Can you share an “ah ha moment” you had while conducting your research? What lessons did you learn from that?

Religious rituals are an integral part of creating miniature painting. Many of the artists are motivated to create paintings as a form of sacred reverence. We discovered that the process itself is a form of ritual worship.

How is your research making a significant social impact?

Our research is bringing recognition to the critical role traditional artists play in preserving the cultural heritage of communities around the world. It is also increasingly awareness about the challenges associated with maintaining these traditions over time.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is coordinating others around a collective objective that it isn’t possible to achieve through individual efforts. Leadership plays a critical role in successfully conducting scientific research, which despite stereotypes to the contrary, is a deeply collaborative endeavor.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1 . The best is the enemy of the good. Scientific discovery is always a work in progress and focusing too much on unrealistic standards can stymy creativity and productivity. Focus on improvement, not perfection.

2 . Flexibility is the best strategy in the face of obstacles. When I began this project, there were unexpected changes in the composition of our team that could have undermined our ability to successfully conduct research with artists in this region. Fortunately, we were able to rapidly pivot and build a new team, which turned out to be ideally suited to undertaking this complex endeavor.

3 . We are all motivated by a desire to be appreciated by our families and communities. One of the most heartwarming discoveries of our research is the reverence the families and communities of these artists have for them. Miniature painting has traditionally been a family affair and the techniques associated with this art form have been passed down through apprenticeship for generations.

4 . Look outside your primary academic discipline. Conducing theoretically motivated research within a single discipline can lead to important insights, but can also limit research to topics that have been widely studied. Much of my research is an interdisciplinary adventure in exploring novel topics with understudied populations and requires using theories and methods from diverse disciplines in new ways. For example, our study of mastery of miniature art reflects the interdisciplinary theories and methods of cognitive science.

5 . You’ll find inspiration in unexpected places. Constraining your interests to particular topics limits the kinds of contributions you can make. Reading widely and exploring topics that spark your curiosity is important for all learners, including scientists. All of my most novel ideas were sparked by reading about topics I was not focally studying at the time.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I am a fan of the effective altruism movement. Effective altruism is a research field and community of practice that aims to find the most effective ways to help others, and implement them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? How is it relevant to you?

“What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” — Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

This quote reminds me to prioritize gratitude for all of the blessings in my life in the face of temptation to focus on petty frustrations. We have limited time on this planet and should savor as much of it as possible.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!



Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator