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  • In 1901, Davidnig published a paper

  • that forever changed our understanding of taste.

  • His research led to what we know today as the taste map:

  • an illustration that divides the tongue into four separate areas.

  • According to this map,

  • receptors at the tip of our tongues capture sweetness,

  • bitterness is detected at the tongue's base,

  • and along the sides, receptors capture salty and sour sensations.

  • Since its invention, the taste map has been published

  • in textbooks and newspapers.

  • The only problem with this map, is that it's wrong.

  • In fact, it's not even an accurate representation

  • of whatnig originally discovered.

  • The tongue map is a common misconception

  • something widely believed but largely incorrect.

  • So where do misconceptions like this come from,

  • and what makes a fake fact so easy to believe?

  • It's true that the tongue map's journey begins with Davidnig.

  • As part of his dissertation at Leipzig University,

  • nig analyzed taste sensitivities across the tongue for the four basic flavors.

  • Using sucrose for sweet, quinine sulfate for bitter,

  • hydrochloric acid for sour, and salt for salty,

  • nig applied these stimuli to compare differences in taste thresholds

  • across a subject's tongue.

  • He hoped to better understand the physiological mechanisms

  • that affected these four flavors,

  • and his data suggested that sensitivity for each taste

  • did in fact vary across the tongue.

  • The maximum sensation for sweet was located at the tongue's tip;

  • bitter flavors were strongest at the back; salt was strongest in this area,

  • and sour at the middle of the tongue's sides.

  • Butnig was careful to note that every sensation

  • could also be tasted across the tongue,

  • and that the areas he identified offered very small variations in intensity.

  • Like so many misconceptions,

  • the tongue map represents a distortion of its original source,

  • however the nature of that distortion can vary.

  • Some misconceptions are comprised of disinformation

  • false information intentionally designed to mislead people.

  • But many misconceptions, including the tongue map,

  • center on misinformationfalse or misleading information

  • that results from unintentional inaccuracy.

  • Misinformation is most often shaped by mistakes and human error,

  • but the specific mistakes that lead to a misconception

  • can be surprisingly varied.

  • In the case of the tongue map,

  • nig's dissertation was written in German,

  • meaning the paper could only be understood by readers fluent in German

  • and well versed in Hanig's small corner of academia.

  • This kicked off a game of telephone that re-shapeding's research

  • every time it was shared with outside parties.

  • Less than a decade after his dissertation,

  • newspapers were falsely insisting that experiments

  • could prove sweetness was imperceptible on the back of the tongue.

  • The second culprit behind the tongue map's spread

  • were the images thatnig's work inspired.

  • In 1912, a rough version of the map appeared in a newspaper article

  • that cautiously described some of the mysteries

  • behind taste and smell research.

  • Featuring clear labels across the tongue, the article's illustration

  • simplifiednig's more-complicated original diagrams.

  • Variations of this approachable image became repeatedly cited,

  • often without credit or nuanced consideration fornig's work.

  • Eventually this image spread to textbooks and classrooms

  • as a purported truth of how we experience taste.

  • But perhaps the factor that most contributed to this misconception

  • was its narrative simplicity.

  • In many ways,

  • the map complements our desire for clear stories about the world around us

  • a quality not always present in the sometimes-messy fields of science.

  • For example,

  • even the number of tastes we have is more complicated thannig's work suggests.

  • Umamialso known as savoryis now considered the fifth basic taste,

  • and many still debate the existence of tastes

  • like fatty, alkaline, metallic, and water-like.

  • Once we hear a good story,

  • it can be difficult to change how we see that information,

  • even in the face of new evidence.

  • So, next time you see a convenient chart or read a surprising anecdote,

  • try to maintain a healthy skepticism

  • because misconceptions can leave a bitter taste

  • on every part of your tongue.

In 1901, Davidnig published a paper

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