Tongue Map: Myth or Reality?

 In 1901 a research paper published by D.P. Hanig, stated that the tongue had distinct areas of taste sensitivity. Using volunteer’s responses, he determined that sweets had the highest response at the tip of the tongue with the highest response to salt just back of the tip. Sour responses were highest at the sides of the tongue and bitter registered highest at they back of the tongue. The paper was simply based on the volunteers responses. In 1942, Hanig’s raw data was interpreted and graphed by Edwin G. Boring, a noted Harvard psychology historian. (Boring's studies made famous the illusion, "Boring Figure".) He discussed Hanigs data and presented his findings in his book,  Sensation and Perception in the History of Experimental Psychology. Other scientists drew the conclusion that these areas were the only areas to sense the specific tastes and the areas that were not identified had no sensitivity. Virginia Collings re-examined Hanig’s findings in 1974 and determined that the identified areas were more sensitive to the specific tastes, but only slightly and insignificantly more than the previously identified non-sensitive areas. Further research found that all taste buds determine taste based on the shape of the molecule.

Text books, teachers and websites still continue to teach and present the tongue map. ZOOM / PBS Kids (funded in part by the National Science Foundation) has an online activity called "tongue map" that has kids experiment and make a tongue map based on their findings. 

They conclude with an explanation of Boring's tongue map. The date on this site is 1998-2009.