As a youth, you may have learned that the tongue senses sweet tastes at the tip, salty and sour tastes at the sides, and bitter tastes towards the back. This lie is based on Harvard psychologist Edwin Garrigues Boring’s confused 1942 interpretation of a 1901 paper by David P. Hänig. In 1974, Virginia Collings revisited the topic and found that every part of the tongue can taste every taste. See: Human Taste Response as a Function of Locus of Stimulation on the Tongue and Soft Palate. Perception & Psychophysics, 16: 169–174.
Note that before teaching at Harvard, Boring was a professor at Clark University, but left after Wallace Walter Atwood was appointed Clark president; Atwood accused Boring of being a Bolshevik and generally did not think psychological research valuable.
Note also that in recent decades Western scientists accept a ﬁfth taste to accompany sweet, sour, salty, and bitter: umami, the savory flavor of l-glutamate and 5′-ribonucleotides. This flavor is most noticeable in ripe tomatoes, ﬁsh sauce, cheese, soy sauce, and MSG.
From the September 2011 issue of Happiness Pony [PDF]. Written by Mike Benedetti. Taste Map by Aiden Duffy.