Childhood Myths Debunked

By Jasmyn M. ’23

If you pick food up off the ground before five seconds has passed, it’s still good to eat.

False. The five-second rule was disproved in 2003 by a high school intern named Jillian Clarke, who dropped gummy bears and fudge-stripe cookies onto E. coli– treated floor tiles. Most people think that microbes drift onto food seconds after the food drops, but the microbes actually contaminate the food immediately. In another later test at Clemson University, a piece of bologna that was dropped on a contaminated tile managed to gather 99 percent of the bacteria in the first five seconds. Depending on what is on the floor, most food can be picked up after one second or even one minute without negative consequences. However, if there is something harmful on the floor, the dropped food will be equally contaminated before and after the five-second cutoff.

Your tongue has different sections for different tastes.

False. Remember the taste map you were shown in elementary school with the sections for bitter, sour, salty, sweet, and umami sections on your tongue? That is actually a misinterpretation of an experiment done in 1901 by German scientist David Pauli Hänig. By dripping salty, sweet, sour and bitter samples onto different parts of people’s tongues, he discovered that the sensitivity of taste buds varies in different areas of the tongue. He transferred this information to a graph, and that graph was misunderstood, so people thought that the graph meant different areas of the tongue corresponded to different tastes. Hanig’s diagrams led to the labeling of tongue maps. Upon looking at tongue maps, many people mistakenly assumed that sweet tastes can only be detected on the tip of the tongue, bitter on the base, and so on. In 1974, researcher Virginia Collings published a study in which she re-examined the differences in taste perception across the tongue. She found variations on the perimeter of the tongue in detecting sweet, sour, and salty tastes, but concluded that the variations were small and virtually insignificant. Taste buds were also found to be present on the roof of the mouth and in the throat as well as the tongue. A person has approximately 8,000 taste buds and each contains a mixture of receptor cells, allowing them to taste any flavor.  

If you sit too close to the television, you will go blind.

False… although, it has not always been this way! Before the 1950s, television sets emitted levels of radiation that could have heightened the risk of eye problems in some people. Some GE televisions emitted 100,000 times more radiation than what federal health standards considered safe. Now, however, modern televisions contain shielding to block those waves, so radiation is no longer a concern. Human eyes change shape when shifting from close-up to long-distance viewing. At a young age, your eyes are at peak flexibility, so they can focus on objects close-up much more easily. Because of this flexibility, you do not notice when you are straining your eyes, so you get used to this habit. Since your eyes lose this flexibility with age, nearsightedness can develop later in life. To reduce eye strain, keep the room relatively well lit while the television is on. When the frequently changing light of the television is the only light in the room, the pupils of your eyes are forced to constantly adjust. Another thing that can help is the 20-20-20 rule: after twenty minutes of screen time, remove your eyes from the screen for at least twenty seconds to look at something at least twenty feet away. It takes about twenty seconds for your eyes to relax, so giving them a break once in a while will reduce tension.

It is illegal to turn the light on in the car while driving.

False. While there is no rule that explicitly states that turning on the overhead light or dome light is illegal, it can be hazardous. The dome light may affect your field of vision at night or reflect off of your windshield wiper, impairing your ability to see the road ahead. Passengers do not think anything of this when they turn the light on because they do not have the same level of focus on the road as the driver. A police officer may pull you over for having the interior lights on; not because it is illegal, but because it can be considered a form of distracted driving, which is defined as “any activity that diverts attention from driving.”

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

True… as long as it’s healthy! Eating a nutritious breakfast is key because you need vitamins and nutrients from healthy foods like grains and fruits. Sugary breakfast foods will only temporarily satisfy your hunger and will replace few nutrients. Breakfast has its name because you break your overnight fast. While you sleep, your body uses a lot of its stored energy supply to grow and repair itself. Breakfast helps replenish your blood sugar in the morning to fuel your brain and body. Without this recharge, you can feel low on energy, and you are more likely to overeat later in the day. Breakfast also kick-starts your metabolism, which helps you burn calories throughout the day. If you skip breakfast, it can also throw your body’s routine off, and you will get cravings at odd hours and your sleep schedule will be messed up. You need food in your system long before lunchtime. If you don’t eat first thing, you may get so hungry later on that you snack on high-fat, high-sugar foods. In one study that analyzed the health data of 50,000 people over seven years, researchers found that the people whose largest meal of the day was breakfast were more likely to have a lower body mass index than those who ate a large lunch or dinner because you are full early on in the day, so you do not try to overcompensate later on. This is because since breakfast foods are often higher in fiber and nutrients, eating a large breakfast improves the quality of your diet and improves insulin sensitivity at subsequent meals.

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