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Tongue map

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The myth of the tongue map: that 1 tastes bitter, 2 tastes sour, 3 tastes salty, and 4 tastes sweet.

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 taught in some schools, this is incorrect; all taste sensations come from all regions of the tongue, although certain parts are more sensitive to certain tastes.[1]


The theory behind this map originated from a book written by Harvard psychologist Edwin Boring in 1942, [2] which included a translation of a German paper, Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes (The Psychophysics of Taste), by Dirk P. Hänig, written in 1901.[3] Boring replotted and normalized the graphs from the original paper, which were meant to show the taste thresholds of different parts of the tongue. The renormalized versions were interpreted incorrectly by other authors to indicate that there was no sensation where the curves showed a minimum, and maximum sensation where the curves showed a maximum, when the reality was a very small difference between the two. This suggested that each part of the tongue tastes exactly one basic taste. [4][5][6]

The paper showed minute differences in threshold detection levels across the tongue,[7] but these differences were later taken out of context and the minute difference in threshold sensitivity was misconstrued in textbooks as a difference in sensation.[8]

While some parts of the tongue may be able to detect a taste before the others do, all parts are equally capable of conveying the qualia of all tastes. Threshold sensitivity may differ across the tongue, but intensity of sensation does not.[8]

The same paper included a taste bud distribution diagram that showed a "taste belt".[9]

In 1974, Virginia Collings investigated the topic again, and confirmed that all the tastes exist on all parts of the tongue.[10]

Into the late 1990s tongue map experiments were a teaching tool in high school biology classes. Students were given strips of paper with different tastes on them and told where each sweet/salty/etc. taste should be more noticeable. They then were instructed to touch those taste strips on different areas of their lab partner's tongue and record the (proper) sensation result.[11]

Taste belt[edit]

The misinterpreted diagram that sparked this myth shows human taste buds distributed in a "taste belt" along the inside 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,[12] and it was this finding that the diagram describes.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Boring, E.G. (1942). Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology. New York, NY: Appleton. Retrieved May 3, 2024.
  3. ^ Hänig, David (1901). "Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes". Philosophische Studien. 17: 576–623. Retrieved July 9, 2014.
  4. ^ Spence, Charles (2022). "The tongue map and the spatial modulation of taste perception". Current Research in Food Science. 5: 598–610. doi:10.1016/j.crfs.2022.02.004. Retrieved May 3, 2024.
  5. ^ Wanjek, Christopher (August 29, 2006). "The Tongue Map: Tasteless Myth Debunked". Livescience.com. Retrieved June 24, 2011.
  6. ^ David V. Smith; Robert F. Margolskee (March 2001). "The Taste Map: All Wrong". Scientific American. Archived from the original on March 19, 2011.
  7. ^ Jacob M. Andersen (Jan 2015). "Mythbusting The Tongue Map". ASDA. Archived from the original on 2015-02-06. Retrieved 2015-02-06.
  8. ^ a b The Chemotopic Organization of Taste wwwalt.med-rz.uni-sb.de Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Chemotopic representation of the human tongue according to Hänig (1901) wwwalt.med-rz.uni-sb.de Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ 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. doi:10.3758/bf03203270.
  11. ^ Munger, Steven (2017-05-23). "The Taste Map of the Tongue You Learned in School Is All Wrong". Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved 2023-03-23.
  12. ^ Hoffmann, A. (1875). "Über die Verbreitung der Geschmacksknospen beim Menschen" [On the spread of taste buds in humans]. Archiv für Pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für Klinische Medicin (in German). 62 (4): 516–530. doi:10.1007/bf01928657. S2CID 38066242.