The Tongue Map Myth

The origin of the concept of tongue map dates back to 1901 when a German scientist named D.P. Hanig published a paper which suggested that different parts of the tongue were responsible for recognizing the four basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty and bitter. In 1942, a Harvard psychologist Edwin G Boring, took this paper, calculated numbers for the level of sensitivity and published his own paper. Although this paper showed minute differences in threshold detection across the tongue, it was taken out of context and showed as a difference in sensitivity in textbooks and thus the tongue map myth was born.

Myth: There are different sections of the tongue that sense different tastes.

Fact: Every part of the tongue includes receptors for every basic taste.

The Tongue Map Myth
The Tongue Map

In 1974 Hanig’s paper was re-examined by Virginia Collings. It was found out that although there were variations of sensitivity to the basic tastes around the tongue, they were small and insignificant. More importantly it was confirmed that there were taste receptors everywhere on the tongue and hence all the tastes exist in all parts of the tongue. Hence tongue map is a myth and it can be easily confirmed by placing salt on the tip of your tongue, the area meant to only sense sweet flavours. However the tongue map is still printed in textbooks and taught by teachers at school, which is quite baffling.

3 thoughts on “The Tongue Map Myth”

  1. I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but even your “facts” are part of a myth.

    There are no basic tastes. You believe in them for the same reason you believed in this “tongue map.” You were taught that in school and accepted it without question.

    Basic tastes are no more real than your tongue map. And I can prove it:

    Describe the taste of a white onion using only the words, “salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.”

    Oh, I’m sorry. Are you having a hard time doing that? That’s because it contains none of those particular tastes. Taste is complex based on billions of chemicals interacting with the taste buds. You can’t simplify that into five “basic tastes” because it makes your homework easier.

    • The article doesn’t claim that there are basic tastes. It informs of the research done by prominent German scientist D.P. Hanig which claimed so. It just says that there are receptors for the what he termed basic tastes in every part of the tongue. Anyway, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

      • “Fact: Every part of the tongue includes receptors for every basic taste.”

        Taken from the very top of your article.

        Yes, the body of your article is only the deliverer of the messages various researchers over time have sent, but the Myth/Fact bit at the top could be clarified to better convey your meaning. I personally would have written it as something like “Every part of the tongue includes receptors for every taste perceived through the gustatory system.” (Because taste is limited and many “tastes” actually come from scent.)

        The commenter could definitely have critiqued your article with a less accusatory tone.


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