The tongue map or taste map is a common misconception that different sections of the tongue are exclusively responsible for different basic tastes. It is illustrated with a schematic map of the tongue, with certain parts of the tongue labeled for each taste. Although widely taught in schools, this was scientifically disproven by later research; all taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue, although different parts are more sensitive to certain flavors.
The theory behind this map originated from a paper written by Harvard psychologist Edwin G. Boring, which was a translation of a German paper, Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes, which was written in 1901. The unclear representation of data in the former paper suggested that each part of the tongue tastes exactly one basic taste.
Actually, the paper showed minute differences in threshold detection levels across the tongue. These differences were later taken out of context and the minute difference in threshold sensitivity related simply in textbooks as a difference in sensitivity.
So, while some parts of the tongue may be able to detect a taste before the others do, all parts are equally good at conveying the qualia of all tastes. Threshold sensitivity may differ across the tongue, but intensity of sensation does not.
The same article included a taste bud distribution diagram that showed a "taste belt".
In 1974, Virginia Collings investigated the topic again, and confirmed that all the tastes exist on all parts of the tongue.
The misinterpreted 1901 diagram in the article that sparked this myth shows human taste buds distributed in a "taste belt" along the outside of the tongue.
Prior to this, A. Hoffmann had concluded, in 1875, that the dorsal center of the human tongue has practically no fungiform papillae and taste buds, and it was this finding that the diagram describes.
- O'Connor, Anahad (November 10, 2008). "The Claim: The tongue is mapped into four areas of taste". The New York Times. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
- Huang, Angela; Chen, Xiaoke; Hoon, Mark; Chandrashekar, Jayaram; Guo, Wei; Tränkner, Dimitri; Ryba, Nicholas; Zuker, Charles (August 24, 2006). "The cells and logic for mammalian sour taste detection". Nature 442 (7105): 934–938. doi:10.1038/nature05084. PMC 1571047. PMID 16929298. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
- Hänig, David (1901). "Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes". Philosophische Studien 17: 576–623. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
- Wanjek, Christopher (August 29, 2006). "The Tongue Map: Tasteless Myth Debunked". Livescience.com. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
- David V. Smith; Robert F. Margolskee (March 2001). "The Taste Map: All Wrong". Scientific American.
- The Chemotopic Organization of Taste wwwalt.med-rz.uni-sb.de[dead link]
- Chemotopic representation of the human tongue according to Hänig (1901) wwwalt.med-rz.uni-sb.de[dead link]
- Collings, V. B. (1974). "Human Taste Response as a Function of Locus of Stimulation on the Tongue and Soft Palate". Perception & Psychophysics 16: 169–174.
- Hoffmann, A. (1875). "Über die Verbreitung der Geschmacksknospen beim Menschen" [On the spread of taste buds in humans]. I haArch. Pathol. Anat. Physiol. (in German) 62: 516–530.