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Hermann Ebbinghaus

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“Mental states of every kind, – sensations, feelings, ideas, – which were at one time present in consciousness and then have disappeared from it, have not with their disappearance absolutely ceased to exist.”- Herman Ebbinghaus

Herman Ebbinghaus was a known German psychologist. He was the pioneer in the experimental study of memory as well as discovering spacing effect and the forgetting curve. Born on January 24th, 1850, in Barmen, Germany he was the son of a rich merchant. He acquired his early education from town gymnasium ant then attended University of Bon in 1867 at the age of 17. He studied philology and history as his main subjects at this university at which time he became interested in studying philosophy. He wasn’t able continue pursuing philosophy as a proper degree because Franco-Prussian war broke out. He served in the Prussian army during this war. After serving for a brief time span in the army, he completed his thesis on “Philosophy of The Unconscious”. He acquired his doctorate at the age of 23 on August 16th, 1873. After the completion of his PhD he started tutoring students in England and France to earn his living.

Herman Ebbinghaus made a profound impact on study of memory and intelligence testing. He used the experimentation to study higher mental processes. He also studied learning curve and analyzed that maintenance rehearsal and acoustic encoding should be applied for effective learning though he faced certain limitations in the process of conducting his ground-breaking research on memory. The major limitation was that he was the only subject in the study. Naturally, this was an obstacle in studying the trends of the whole population. Also, this was a major shortcoming in proving the external validity of the study, despite, the fact that it was internally valid. Ebbinghaus tried to restrict his personal significance to keep the experiment free from biases but failed to do so. This also proved that it is a tough job to be the researcher as well as the subject at the same time. It is next to impossible in experimentation to maintain neutrality in this situation. The studies on the learning curve conducted by Ebbinghaus proved that the learning pattern of individuals showed a sharp decline after their first attempt. An individual’s capacity to retain information begins to slow down after the first trial. The learning curve shows an exponential increase similar to the forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus also gave the concept of serial position effect which consists of recency and primacy as its major ideas. The recency effect described the recalling of the latest information stored in the short term memory, whereas, the primacy effect is related to information retrieval from long term memory

Ebbinghaus was also the pioneer of sentence completion exercises. It was developed by to gauge the mental abilities of schoolchildren in sentence structuring. He also discovered optical illusion which occurs due to the relative size perception. This concept is used in conducting studies on cognitive psychology. Ebbinghaus was an accomplished psychologist who laid firm foundations for intelligence testing through his ground breaking researches on memory. He died on February 26th, 1909.

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