WNT/β-catenin signaling is crucial to all stages of life. It controls early morphogenetic events in embryos, maintains stem cell niches in adults, and is dysregulated in many types of cancer. Despite its ubiquity, little is known about the dynamics of signal transduction or whether it varies across contexts. Here we probe the dynamics of signaling by monitoring nuclear accumulation of β-catenin, the primary transducer of canonical WNT signals, using quantitative live cell imaging. We show that β-catenin signaling responds adaptively to constant WNT signaling in pluripotent stem cells, and that these dynamics become sustained on differentiation. Varying dynamics were also observed in the response to WNT in commonly used mammalian cell lines. Signal attenuation in pluripotent cells is observed even at saturating doses, where ligand stability does not affect the dynamics. TGFβ superfamily ligands Activin and BMP, which coordinate with WNT signaling to pattern the gastrula, increase the β-catenin response in a manner independent of their ability to induce new WNT ligand production. Our results reveal how variables external to the pathway, including differentiation status and cross-talk with other pathways, dramatically alter WNT/β-catenin dynamics.