Michael J. O’Brien, Professor of Anthropology, Director of the Museum of Anthropology, and Dean of the College of Arts and Science, studies culture through the lens of evolutionary theory. His research interests range from the tangible Indian arrowhead to more abstract theories of social influence on consumer choices. The common denominator is that evolutionary theory can be applied not only to the biological sciences but the social as well. He explains, “If humans evolved—descended from other humans—the information that they carry has evolved as well. We’re interested in those paths of transmission of cultural information.” Dean O’Brien’s study of human interconnectedness also fosters it; he maintains that collaborative scholarship, or “wired brains,” produces scholarship more rigorous and expansive than does individual work.
Evolutionary theory was formulated to address biological change, but Dean O’Brien argues that it can be used to describe cultural change as well.
Dean O’Brien discusses how culture may act against advances in technology. He gives the example of how Pol Pot targeted wearers of eyeglasses for execution because glasses were perceived as a marker of intelligence.