What are some surprising things that not everyone can do?
August 4, 2016 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Recent articles featured on MF learned me that not everyone gets goosebumps, and that not everyone has a mind's eye. What are some other things that not everyone can do, either mental or physical?

For example, I know that not everyone can make the 'Vulcan Salute', not everyone can roll their tongue, and not everyone can taste PTC in broccoli and other brassicas.
posted by bq to Science & Nature (98 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not everyone can smell the weird way your pee smells after you eat asparagus.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:32 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people get tingly reactions to ASMR videos, and some don't. And different people have different triggers.
posted by radioamy at 3:41 PM on August 4, 2016


The super-recognisers of Scotland Yard
posted by nicwolff at 3:45 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have never had an ice cream headache but this is entirely anecdotal.
posted by Naib at 3:53 PM on August 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


Color sorting pearls
posted by asockpuppet at 3:56 PM on August 4, 2016


Raise one eyebrow over the other.
posted by invisible ink at 3:56 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Not everyone can wiggle their ears
posted by A hidden well at 4:01 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Odd physical quirks/Stupid Human Tricks: I can flare my nostrils with ease, for example. Others can wiggle their ears. My mom can lift her 2nd and 4th toe while leaving the other 3 flat on the ground.
posted by hydra77 at 4:03 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pinch with their toes.
posted by Bruce H. at 4:04 PM on August 4, 2016


Wink.
posted by Night_owl at 4:08 PM on August 4, 2016


Sneer. My dad and I can both sneer on one side of our mouth but not the other. My mom can't do it on either.
posted by skycrashesdown at 4:13 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Perfect pitch. I prefer A at 440 instead of 415.
posted by Melismata at 4:13 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not everyone can roll their tongue.

Not everyone tastes cilantro (coriander) the same way.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 4:15 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Not everybody has a palmaris longus tendon in their wrist.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:16 PM on August 4, 2016 [9 favorites]


I can't move any of my toes independently of the others. The other people in my family can do things like raise just the big toe or move just the little toe outwards, but my toes all move as a unit.

I also can't raise my middle finger straight up while holding the other fingers down. I can come close with my right hand, but not at all close with my left. Fortunately, I rarely want to give people the finger while driving.
posted by Redstart at 4:17 PM on August 4, 2016


I can touch the palm of my hand with any finger while keeping the other 3 straight, in either hand. I don't know anyone else who can do that. But I'm not a good guitar player.
posted by coldhotel at 4:18 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people can't distinguish all of the colors (color blindness).

Some people can't get 4 wisdom teeth removed (due to being born with a partial set).
posted by TomFoolery at 4:20 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Induce sneezing by looking at bright lights. I assumed this was universal until very recently.
posted by penguin pie at 4:21 PM on August 4, 2016 [25 favorites]


Not everyone can wiggle their ears

These people are freaks.

My wife doesn't understand how I can wiggle my ears. "What muscle do you use?" she asks. The goddamn ear-wiggling muscle. What the hell else would I use?
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 4:25 PM on August 4, 2016 [46 favorites]


One of my nephews can roll either or both of his eyes so far that all you see is the whites, none of the pupil. He can also make his eyeballs (again, either or both!) quiver very, very fast --- as you can imagine, back in grade school this was quite popular with his classmates.

He can also wiggle either or both of his ears, which he currently uses to entertain his infant daughter.
posted by easily confused at 4:31 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


A friend can wiggle his scalp, which looks a bit like moshing without moving your head
posted by scruss at 4:36 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hitchhiker thumbs! Also some people are hypermobile. E.g., my sister can easily touch her thumb to her forearm, and the backs of her hands to her forearms.
posted by Stonkle at 4:38 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Some people can't whistle.

My mother can't wink. It's tragicomic when she tries because she ends up blinking.

Some people are born without an appendix and can never get appendicitis.

A surprising amount of people can't hula hoop.

And a decent amount of people can't make bubbles out of bubblegum.
posted by donut_princess at 4:47 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can tie a knot in a cherry stem using just my tongue. It's a nice party trick because it isn't a common skill.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:49 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not many Western people have perfect pitch. A surprising percentage of Chinese speakers do.
posted by Mchelly at 4:51 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can touch the tip of my nose with my tongue, and blow up a balloon with my nose.


Some people can't recognize faces

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prosopagnosia
posted by Jacen at 4:53 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Some people can't keep their wisdom teeth and have to have them removed because there isn't enough room in their mouth. (I say this sort of as a joke. I have discovered that I am one of the seemingly, freakishly rare and frustrating -for dentists - people who has all of my wisdom teeth still in my mouth)
posted by WalkerWestridge at 4:56 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people can visualize more or fewer single items without resorting to grouping. Picture in your head three oranges on a table. Mentally add oranges until you can't picture them or until you can only picture them in groups (I can't picture more than six before I start seeing groups of three. Most people can't get past six.)
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:04 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Some people's pelvis shape will not permit them to do the splits, regardless of practice, willpower etc.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:07 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hyperextensibility/hypermobility (double-jointedness).

A very mixed blessing. It was fun doing party tricks in my youth. I could put my legs behind my head, turn my feet completely backward and bend my fingers to the back of my hand. Now, my knees are in a perpetual worry state. Activities like basketball or skiing are strictly verboten.
posted by nedpwolf at 5:38 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Not everyone can survive a bee sting or an encounter with shellfish (and other allergens that trigger anaphylactic shock).

Supertasters.

Some people can see ultraviolet light.
posted by Ookseer at 5:46 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people are Compelled To Blurt.
posted by The otter lady at 6:00 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Turning tongue upside down... both ways (clockwise and counter clockwise). Some people can see fluorescent lights flicker an/or hear old tube televisions when they are on.
posted by jessamyn at 6:15 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


I came to say winking and cilantro tasting like soap, but they're already mentioned.

What about things like ambidextrosity or double-jointedness?

I have a very hard time touching my toes, even if I do yoga frequently, because my body is so strangely proportioned.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:23 PM on August 4, 2016


Some people can't touch their hands behind their backs, vertically.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 7:01 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Extend your arms straight in front of you with your palms up and touch your hands together along the pinky edge in a beggar fashion. Many women's elbows can naturally touch without bending their arms, but few men can.
posted by rhizome at 7:09 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people don't have matching eye colors.
posted by tamitang at 7:19 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Some people's pinky finger tips do not touch when holding the inside edge of their hands together.

[I feel like we are learning about the weird physical quirks of our mefi friends].
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:33 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Picture in your head three oranges on a table. Mentally add oranges until you can't picture them

Some people can't even do that! Some people can't picture things, they have no mind's eye. (aphantasia)
posted by rebent at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who can taste the difference between pasturised and UHT milk, even in tea.
posted by kjs4 at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Face blindness
posted by kjs4 at 7:56 PM on August 4, 2016


If you can tense the muscles on one side of your abdomen and then the other, you can wiggle your navel. I've known one person who could do this.
posted by clavicle at 8:01 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


My sister was born with no wisdom teeth, which makes her a more evolved human than the rest of us lower evolved versions that still had wisdom teeth that had to get pulled out (like me).
posted by foxjacket at 8:29 PM on August 4, 2016


Apparently super smellers are real - it's called hyperosmia.
posted by Toddles at 8:35 PM on August 4, 2016


Some people are stereoblind, meaning they have "an inability to perceive stereoscopic depth by combining and comparing images from the two eyes."
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:22 PM on August 4, 2016


Very few people can voluntarily contract their tensor tympani muscles in their ears. Doing so makes a rumbling sound (and they are completely different muscles than the ear wiggling ones). I can do this, and initially thought all people could do this - in fact, this is what I do instead when I try to wiggle my ears. When I learned that most people could not do this (while still fairly young), I then used to purposely contract them for long periods of time to try to get Matilda-like magic powers. This has failed so far.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:21 PM on August 4, 2016 [18 favorites]


Plug your nose
posted by John Cohen at 11:48 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't have my palm read by a fortune teller at a travelling fair as I don't have separate "head" and "love" "lines". That is, as with 5% of the population, on both palms I only have a single transverse palmar crease.
posted by boudicca at 12:47 AM on August 5, 2016


Somewhat related to Boudicca - I have an extra crease on my right little finger between the knuckle and the first finger joint.
posted by crocomancer at 2:21 AM on August 5, 2016


see numbers on a numberline and do calculations based on that numberline

see time (months, days, years) as a physical flow, on which they can place events.

be able to "physically" move through the timeline to points in the past and future

the timeline and the numberline being shaded or coloured in some way.
posted by mrmulliner at 4:54 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think that the stuff that you're talking about is a form of synesthesia, mrmulliner. In general, synesthesia is a thing that only some people can experience.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:29 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have never been able to touch my toes without significantly bending my knees - my hamstrings are too short. As a consequence, I can sit cross-legged quite comfortably. I also tend to bounce when I walk, unless I make a conscious effort to land more on my heels when I stride.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 6:44 AM on August 5, 2016


Some people can only experience horrific paranoia from pot and none of the good stuff!
posted by h00py at 8:14 AM on August 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


Apparently super smellers are real - it's called hyperosmia.
posted by Toddles at 8:35 PM on August 4


There are also people who cannot smell, either by birth or by trauma; they have anosmia.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:17 AM on August 5, 2016


Apparently roughly 22% of the population does not get hung over if they get drunk.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:22 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a non-athlete, I'm always impressed with people who can see the things in sports that I can't, like referees or commentators. Everything goes by so fast, how does a referee see an offsides in lacrosse or a split-second close play in baseball? Like Clint Eastwood said in "Million Dollar Baby": "she's going to break her wrists if she keeps punching that way"; or the coach in "Chariots of Fire" who looked at Abrahams and was able to see that he could shave x number of minutes off his run time. How did they see those things?
posted by Melismata at 9:40 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Adding to that: apparently, Ted Williams could see exactly where on the baseball it was hit by the bat, e.g. 1/4" above the seam or wherever. Umpire Ron Luciano said that he knew the strike zone so well that "if he didn't swing at a pitch, it was a ball, wherever it was."
posted by Melismata at 10:04 AM on August 5, 2016


Pretty niche example, but a lot of people don't have an acoustic reflex above around 2000 Hz.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:57 PM on August 5, 2016


My fellow syndactyls and I will never know what it's like to wear Vibram Fivefingers or those socks with individual toes. I should start a telethon.

Some of us also can't get our fingers to touch in “prayer position”, due to short tendons. There's a good 20 mm gap between the insides of my middle finger joints which was — lemme tell ya — a problem growing up in a religious setting.
posted by scruss at 2:23 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can whistle and hum simultaneously. I enjoy the sensation but nobody likes hearing it.
posted by STFUDonnie at 9:25 PM on August 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


Believe in some sort of "God"/Higher-Power/Religion. Apparently it has something to do with the right temporal lobe.
posted by ethical_caligula at 10:48 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


My fiancée can't burp. I had no idea this was a thing.
posted by buzzkillington at 1:24 AM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Not everyone can crack their knuckles.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:35 AM on August 6, 2016


Me and my brother both can't anything eat containing the slightest trace of vinegar when we have a heavy cold, even tomato ketchup smells completely different and utterly rank. This is how I know if I have a proper dose of ManFlu rather than just a wee sniffle.
posted by Chairboy at 3:39 AM on August 6, 2016


Supertasters have a better sense of taste than most people.

People (like actress Marilu Henner!) with hyperthymesia have nearly total-recall memory
posted by Room 641-A at 11:02 AM on August 6, 2016


Not everyone can see those magic 3D puzzle things, like the schooner/sailboat in Mallrats. I've never been able to figure any of them out. I can see something in 3D after a bit of fiddling with my focus, but it's always inverted and never clear enough to tell what it is.

It is way more frustrating than it has any right to be.
posted by bondcliff at 1:45 PM on August 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can pop my ears (the Valsalva maneuver) at will, without swallowing, blowing my nose, or yawning. Or doing anything else.
posted by IndigoRain at 6:39 PM on August 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


h00py: "Some people can only experience horrific paranoia from pot and none of the good stuff!"

I thought it was only me!
posted by secretseasons at 4:25 PM on August 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I couldn't burp on purpose until I was well into my 20s, if not 30.
posted by rhizome at 12:38 AM on August 9, 2016


Some people can only experience horrific paranoia from pot

I don't get paranoid, but I do have the same sort of allergic reaction I get from stuff like pollen or heavy dust (runny nose, watery eyes, difficulty breathing), with the added plus of massive migraines. In my younger days I had friends insist I was imagining these reactions, and that if I'd just keep smoking I'd "get used to it" --- yeah, right. Like I was stupid enough to what, find it fun to give myself breathing problems and those godawful migraines?!?
posted by easily confused at 5:33 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I was rather surprised to find out a couple of years ago that not everyone (in fact mostly no-one) triggers a cough reflex when jamming a q-tip in their ear. I still think the rest of you are weird.
posted by Kabanos at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can tell you the number of letters in any word, really quickly - basically instantly for words up to eight letters long, maybe a few seconds for ones that are like fifteen or so letters long. I think I'm using the same mechanism most people use to count objects visually.

It's the weakest superpower ever.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:40 PM on August 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


Induce sneezing with chocolate (it's my partner's test for a chocolate's quality: sneezing only occurs for 60% cocoa content or higher).

Do personal anti-hiccup tricks count?
posted by progosk at 7:23 AM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can only wiggle one ear (the right). I have spent hours of my life trying to contact the part of my brain that can wiggle the other one. I dimly remember learning to do the right hand side one around age 10.
posted by aesop at 5:16 PM on August 19, 2016


I can also squirt (freshly-created) saliva from directly beneath my tongue at will (though most often it occurs whilst yawning). My girlfriend calls it, with some accuracy, "snaking".
posted by aesop at 5:18 PM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


Upon reading some of the other posts, I learn that I am (apparently) also a person who can contract his tensor tympani, which has played havoc with my beatboxing for years, since I lazily assume others can hear the additional 'voice' I'm creating with it.
posted by aesop at 5:23 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


squirt saliva from directly beneath my tongue at will

This is called "gleeking":
posted by foobaz at 5:24 PM on August 19, 2016 [4 favorites]


I just learned that pee shivers are a thing for most dudes, it's never happened to me.

I know someone who can blink one eye at a time. Not a wink where the cheek muscles get involved, but just close and open one eyelid at a time without involving other facial muscles.
posted by peeedro at 8:00 PM on August 19, 2016


I can fully bend each of my fingers independent of the others. It seems absolutely normal to me but I've had some people act like it was weird. Can you do it?

I can simultaneously write words forwards and backwards with both hands, so they're mirroring each other. (Although normally I'm very clumsy with my left hand and can really only write with it if I'm mirroring the actions of my right hand.) I can also write upside-down or backwards words pretty easily. (I can actually spell the words backwards, or I can write the letters backwards like you'd see them in the mirror.) I'm not sure how rare these things are, and I'd be interested to learn if others can do them!

I seem to be able to recognize voices better than most people. I'm always recognizing celebrities doing narration and cartoon voices and stuff. To me somebody's voice is almost as recognizable as their face, and I don't get the feeling it works that way for most people.

I used to have a real gift for reviving dead pens. A few good shakes, and I could get the driest old pen working again! I'd joke that I was the Jesus of pens. As I've gotten older, this ability seems to have left me. I guess I'll have to leave pen resurrection to the next generation.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:19 PM on August 19, 2016


Very few people can voluntarily contract their tensor tympani muscles in their ears. Doing so makes a rumbling sound

Well I'll be damned. All my life, like since I was 4, I've wondered what this was. It was just like, yeah, I can spontaneously create this rumbling sound in my ears (only both at the same time -- why not individually???) that no one else can hear. Bodies are weird.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:22 AM on August 21, 2016 [4 favorites]


My mother can no longer sneeze. Weirdly enough, when I was a kid, she used to have these long sneezing fits -- like 8-10 in a row, but now? No sneezes, ever. It's like she used up her allotment of sneezes.
posted by sarcasticah at 5:02 PM on August 21, 2016 [1 favorite]


Hey, I can do the tensor tympani thing. I also assumed it was just normal for everyone.

Can everyone do the thing where you lift the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth and then point it backwards and fire a very thin line of saliva out of your mouth? A friend when I was a kid could do it at will but I can only do it after yawning.
posted by biffa at 6:02 AM on August 25, 2016


Fold my tongue like a cloverleaf.
posted by anshuman at 1:36 PM on August 25, 2016


I knew a woman in college who couldn't squat with her feet flat on the floor. (She would fall over backward.)
posted by anshuman at 1:44 PM on August 25, 2016


That's typically just tight hamstrings.
posted by rhizome at 4:57 PM on August 25, 2016 [1 favorite]


Rhizome, her ankles wouldn't bend tighter than 90 degrees.
posted by anshuman at 11:21 AM on August 26, 2016


It turns out my SO can also do the tensor tympani thing but more interestingly it sounds like she is synesthetic. We've been together over 11 years so it is kind of weird to have this conversation turn this up. She sees numbers as having good and bad colours apparently. 48 is the best number because it's the color of the fire. Letters have colours for her also.

My thing, which is less impressive, is that I tend to see words as blocks, so i associate a shape with names especially but also other words. This links to bring able to count the number of letters in a word quickly.
posted by biffa at 1:01 PM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


WalkerWestridge: "I have discovered that I am one of the seemingly, freakishly rare and frustrating -for dentists - people who has all of my wisdom teeth still in my mouth)"

...your dentist won't be frustrated if you are taking good care of them. Lots of people have space for them, but not everyone has space for the teeth AND enough extra space to get a toothbrush and/or floss back there. I'm one of the exceptions! 32 healthy happy teeth.

vegartanipla: "Very few people can voluntarily contract their tensor tympani muscles in their ears."

...which is also how you pop your ears without doing anything! Bonus, if you have a small hole in your eardrum, you can plug your nose and blow hard and hear air escaping from your ear. (No? Just me?)

anshuman: "her ankles wouldn't bend tighter than 90 degrees."

...my wife can't bend her ankles more than 90°. I find it weird. How do you stretch your hammies then? On tiptoe? I keep my heel flat on the floor and lean forward to put my ankles at an acute angle.

I worked hard as a youth to gain control over facial muscles because making faces is fun. As a result, I can raise either eyebrow, either side of my top lip, wiggle either ear (right is harder than left for me), flare my nostrils, wiggle my nose from side to side, and cross either eye while keeping the other still (or, cross one eye then roll the other all over, which is lots of fun). Still can't go full Marty Feldman and have my eyes point opposite directions, but I'm working on it.
posted by caution live frogs at 9:37 AM on August 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can make myself sneeze if I think really sexy thoughts.
posted by palomar at 9:15 AM on August 30, 2016


Late to the game but, I do certain things with my right hand and certain things with my left. I write and throw with my right. But I bat, play guitar, play drums, fence etc. with my left. I can't do any of these things with any dexterity on the opposite hand.
posted by dry white toast at 7:05 AM on September 7, 2016


My wife doesn't get songs stuck in her head. Ever. As far as she knows, she's never experienced it.
posted by Jpfed at 8:13 AM on September 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I had a friend who could recall with perfect accuracy lengthy passages of text which he had read only once. For instance, he once recited to me a full letter to the editor he had read that day about some environmental protection issue - it was about seven or eight paragraphs long. Later that day he clipped and sent it to me - he had remembered it with almost perfect accuracy. He could also recall past conversations and lectures essentially verbatim (something I am also good at, though not perfect in that same way). I know there is a term for this - I thought it was eidetic memory, but that seems to refer to images, so I don't think that's it.
posted by Miko at 11:12 AM on September 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since this is still going, I think my ability to produce tears on demand is unusual - at least, people have been surprised when I mentioned it. I sort of concentrate on the area above the bridge of my nose and, after ten or twenty seconds, the tears start dripping out.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:57 PM on September 8, 2016


One of my friends can taste the common preservative, sodium benzoate. Unfortunately for them, it's not a pleasant taste.

For other people, sodium benzoate apparently can also taste salty or sweet. (I've never noticed it having any taste at all.)
posted by en forme de poire at 1:44 AM on September 9, 2016


My HS boyfriend could hear a song once and play it immediately. (On the guitar.) There's probably a name for that.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:20 AM on September 9, 2016


I can do that, but I don't think of it as something I'm just naturally gifted with - it just comes from years of learning to play the guitar. On the other hand, I can usually learn the melody of a song and sing it back after one hearing, so maybe there's something to it beyond training.
posted by Miko at 12:39 PM on September 9, 2016


Oh thank goodness for explaining the tensor tympani thing. I kinda drum all the time, with my feet, or my fingers, or whatever, but also with that muscle in my ear. I've done it so much that I can "create" separate bass drum and snare drum "sounds."
posted by infinitewindow at 1:02 PM on September 13, 2016


Very few people can voluntarily contract their tensor tympani muscles in their ears. Doing so makes a rumbling sound (and they are completely different muscles than the ear wiggling ones).

I invoke this in public bathrooms when I very much do not want to hear what is happening in the next stall over. I had no idea it was not universal.
posted by amicamentis at 9:02 AM on September 14, 2016


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