Researchers have discovered that primates can “see” with their ears and “hear” with their eyes. Essentially, neurons responsible for “forwarding” visual or auditory information can send information to either the visual or auditory processing systems depending upon the circumstances. This gives the brain an edge in situations requiring a very fast response or in situations where one or the other sense has been compromised (or is absent).
Of course, we’re not normally aware of this happening. This is yet another example of how much we still have to learn about how the brain processes information, and how counter-intuitive some of the recent finds are. Another interesting example of this paradox is the recent research suggesting that people who self-identify as being undecided on political issues have, in fact, often already made up their minds; they are just not consciously aware of it yet.
We’ve written previously about how market research will advance as we understand more about how the brain works and how the “mind” makes decisions. Although a few companies are building business around this nascent field, I think it’s inevitable that qualitative research will become more empirical as our understanding of our internal and largely unconscious processes grows. The challenge is going to be boosting the signal to noise ratio so clients will understand what kind of research is valuable – and what is not.