The curious non-abilities of humankind
November 27, 2017 1:40 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of non-abilities are some small percentage of humankind born with that don't affect their everyday life and, in fact, may not be discovered as a non-ability until later in life?

Examples that I already know about:
- aphantasia (inability to visualize)
- tone deafness
- inability to get earworms
- inability to distinguish sour and bitter

Surely there are others out there. Tell me about them please!

I'm specifically interested in non-abilities that aren't usually considered disabling by the person who has them.
posted by serelliya to Science & Nature (33 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I believe the ability to roll your tongue into a tube is genetic (although apparently not as simply genetic as I thought.) And there are several flavors that certain people can't detect.
posted by spacewrench at 1:44 PM on November 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Would something like cilantro having a soapy taste count?

Other trivial physical things, like touching ones nose with ones tongue, or rolling your tongue?
posted by dismas at 1:44 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Snapping fingers
Color blindness (borderline)
posted by Automocar at 1:47 PM on November 27, 2017

posted by forza at 1:54 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Smelling asparagus pee.
posted by General Malaise at 1:58 PM on November 27, 2017 [8 favorites]

There are several genetic variants in Asian populations that cause acetaldehyde dehydrogenase deficiency, which means that alcohol isn't fully metabolized. The byproducts cause an alcohol flush reaction (which used to be called as "Asian flush" or "Asian glow").

As young children don't typically drink, this wouldn't become known until at least adolescence. It's also problematic, as DNA damage is one of the side effects, and drinking regularly with the condition increases the risk of some cancers (esophageal) pretty substantially.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:06 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Prosopagnosia - face-blindness.

Dyslexia and related conditions - the person might be recognized as having reading/writing difficulties but not have the cause of them identified.
posted by lakeroon at 2:18 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Synesthesia might qualify as this. Mine is mild color-grapheme, but I don't know anyone who has it who considers it disabling. It wasn't even something I thought about as unique or unusual until I got older, because I've never know anything different.
posted by colorblock sock at 3:10 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by easy, lucky, free at 3:12 PM on November 27, 2017

I can't wiggle my ears
posted by AFABulous at 3:22 PM on November 27, 2017

Voluntary control (or not) of the tensor tympani muscle in one's ear.
posted by whitewall at 3:56 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I’ve never had brain freeze
posted by tatiana wishbone at 4:14 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Allergic reactions to poison ivy and mosquito bites are not universal.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:17 PM on November 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have stereoblindness... I'll never be able to experience a 3D movie.

I also have non-binocular vision. It makes things like parallel parking fun. ^_^ But hey, other than that, I lead a fairly normal life. It's genetic too, my son is the same way.

I have a friend who has difficulties seeing the color purple. A weird sort of color blindness?
posted by patheral at 4:18 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not being ticklish. Not being able to snap or whistle or cross your eyes.
posted by emjaybee at 5:13 PM on November 27, 2017

Palmaris longus muscle, some people have one or two, some don't.

I had three wisdom teeth taken out, the fourth was nowhere to be found.
posted by zengargoyle at 5:21 PM on November 27, 2017

Sexually induced sneezing? I realise this is not really an "ability," but if you have it you might consider it nifty enough to be one...
posted by kmennie at 5:49 PM on November 27, 2017

A sense of direction.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:09 PM on November 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

My sister and I both have weird color vision - not colorblindness, but over the years we've both come to believe our experience of color is significantly different from that of others.

I thought everyone hated onions until embarrassingly late in life, and just put up with them because they were in everything. Then at some point I was like, wait, if everyone hates them why are they in EVERYTHING?!
posted by potrzebie at 7:53 PM on November 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

Prosopagnosia. Until my thirties, I thought everyone was working as hard as I do to figure out the contextual clues that help me identify who they are.

Maybe not exactly what you're looking for, but I also thought that certain medical discomforts were merely part of the human condition until recently, when I learned they're because my body is messed up. Such as pain when taking a deep breath (asthma), chest pain while exercising (still figuring that out), extreme jaw pain and fatigue when holding my mouth open for any length of time such as at the dentist, dizziness when standing.
posted by metasarah at 8:23 PM on November 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have spatial sequence synesthesia. I didn’t realize it was different than most people’s experience of the concept of time and numbers until my 30s.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 8:40 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Some people don't form autobiographical memories. They remember what happened as facts, but can't mentally go back and replay a conversation or visualize the scene (or if they do, they visualize it in third person).
posted by Lady Li at 8:49 PM on November 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

tetrachromacy (maybe)
posted by crocomancer at 4:19 AM on November 28, 2017

Some people have no visual thoughts at all.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:37 AM on November 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Skin writing! AKA Dermatographic urticaria
posted by castlebravo at 5:22 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Being able to do the Vulcan salute. They had to glue Zachary Quinto's fingers together for the first Star Trek reboot movie.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:00 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also: I had an ex who could not voluntarily flare his nostrils or wiggle his nose and he looked at me like I was a wizard whenever I did either of those things.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:01 AM on November 28, 2017

When my mother was a girl (1930s-40s), there were many people who considered being left-handed a disability.
posted by JanetLand at 7:33 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

A lot of people can't whistle.
posted by w0mbat at 7:34 AM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I remember reading either an AskMe or MeTa where it was revealed that some people couldn't hold their farts in.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:03 PM on November 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have an extra set of ribs, which on the plus side make it harder for someone to stab me, but on the down side makes it harder for certain types of medical scans to work on me. I only found out when a scan tech mentioned it, and the supervising doc then actually sat there and counted.
posted by aramaic at 7:38 PM on November 28, 2017

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