The team will study apes and children and use statistical analysis to try and figure out where the impulse to work with others comes from.
Money has been provided by the US's John Templeton Foundation, which funds research into "The Big Questions" about humanity.
Professors Andrew Whiten and Kevin Laland, experts in the evolution of culture, will lead the research and the grant will fund two additional lecturers, eight new post-doctoral research scientists and 10 PhD students.
Mr Whiten said: "We can learn much about the evolutionary roots of our cultural capacities by studying the social traditions of monkeys and apes, and that will be an important part of this project."
Mr Laland added: "We will be investigating how humans and other animals decide whom to trust as sources of cultural information and what other forms of cultural filtering are important."