Herman Ebbinghaus Essay

During the late 1800’s a new science was emerging in Europe. Psychology’s roots
can be traced back to Germany and a man by the name of William Wunt. Following
Wunt other psychologists began emerging in different fields. Of these pioneers
Herman Ebbinghaus was one, and his field of study was memory. He performed the
first experiments in 1885 in Germany and the following is a background on the
man and his field. Herman Ebbinghaus was born in 1850 in Germany and died there
in 1909. He received his formal education at the Universities of Bonn, Halle,
and Berlin (Gale, 1996). Ebbinghaus received degrees in philosophy and history
from these universities (Gale, 1996). Ebbinghaus went on to teach at the
Universities of Berlin, Poland, Breslaw and Halle (Gale, 1996). These
experiences combined with later experiences with memory combine to give
Ebbinghaus a curiosity about memory greater than most of his time. Memory can be
defined as your amount of learning or your stored information. The process of
storing and retreving information from the brain that is central to learning and
thinking (Microsoft Encarta, [MSE], 1997). According to Myers (1998) memory is
“any indication that learning has persisted over time”. There are also
four types of memory classified: recollection, recall, recognition, and
relearning. Recollection is the reconstruction of facts based on clues that
serve as reminders; recall is the active remembering of something from the past
without help; recognition is the ability to identify previous stimuli as
familiar; relearning is material that seems to be easier to remember than others
as if it has been learned before (MSE, 1997). These four types of memory
together help all people to remember anything from the states’ capitals to your
best friends birthday party from second grade. Some researchers say that there
are specific sites dedicated to memory while others say that all the brain works
together (MSE, 1997). There are tests to determine memory in individuals that
Ebbinghaus Ebbinghaus 3 himself developed and will be discussed later. One test
that does involve memory in a way would be the IQ test developed to test
childrens level of intelligence which in turn depends on how much the child
remembers. Ebbinghaus served in the Franco-Prussian War then seven years after
that, decided to tutor in England, France and Berlin (Gale, 1996). It was during
this time that Ebbinghaus became interested in memory and began to wonder how
memory worked (Gale, 1996). In the journal of Physiological Psychology William
Wunt said that a test on memory could not be performed (Gale, 1996). After
reading this Ebbinghaus decided that he would try and test memory himself. Armed
with his curiosity and his knowledge of memory from tutoring Ebbinghaus began
the tests. He used the same mathematical treatment that Gustav Fechner used in
Elements of Psychophysics to try and test memory experimentally (Gale, 1996).

Ebbinghaus decided to be the subject and the experimenter in this test so he
made a list of nonsense syllables that he would memorize (Myers, 1998). He
crated 2,300 one syllable consonant-vowel-consonant combinations to make his
study easier (Gale, 1996). He made words such as taz, bok, lef so that he could
test the memorization rather than his previous knowledge of the words. He
divided the material into lists that he memorized in different conditions (Gale,
1996). He measured them at night, in the day, when he was tired, just gotten up,
etc. He recorded the average time it took him to memorize the lists perfectly
then altared the test (Gale 1996). According to Gale (1996) he made observations
about ther effects of such variables as speed, list length, and number of
repetitions. Ebbinghaus also wanted to test long term and short term memory
retention. He compared the time it took him to memorize any list once with the
ammount of time it took him to memorize the same list again (Gale, 1996). He
also measured immediate Ebbinghaus 4 memory showing that he remembered about six
to eight items off his list after one look (Gale, 1996). Ebbinghaus in testing
memory wanted to know how much he still knew from his lists later. According to
Myers (1998) he would test himself on the same material thirty minutes to thirty
days after his initial test. Using the mathematical methods mentioned earlier he
came up with a retention curve showing how much of the information he was able
to retrieve the next day. This figure can be seen on the attatched sheet, Figure
9.3. Ebbinghaus discovered that the longer he repeated the list on the first day
the more he remembered on the second day when he was trying to recall the
information (Myers, 1998). Here is where the principle “The amount
remembered depends on the time spent learning” stems from (Myers 1998).

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Ebbinghaus didn’t always remember what he learned though. The amount he forgot
can be seen his forgetting curve (see attached sheet) Figure 9.13. Ebbinghaus
tested himself up to thirty days after the inital remembering and graphed what
he remembered then (Myers, 1998). The results show that as time increased
percentage remembered decreases (Myers, 1998). Ebbinghaus did distinguish that
nonsense information is more easily forgotten then everyday material. According
to Gale (1996) Ebinghaus tested himself on 420 lists of 16 syllables 340 times
each, making 14,280 trials. Ebbinghaus studied learning rates for meaningful and
meaningless material concluding that meaningful items such as sentences and
words could be learned much more efficiently than nonsense syllables (Gale,
1996). As a result of Ebbinghaus’ work more about memory is now known. It is
better to evenly space memorization rather than memorize it all at once (Gale,
1996). Despite Wunt’s disagreement many still use Ebbinghaus’ work on memory as
a model for research on human memory (Gale, 1996). Ebbinghaus also developed a
test for memory in 1894 while studying the mental capacities of children he
developed a sentence completion test that is still used today to measure
intelligence (Gale, 1996). This was the Ebbinghaus 5 first successful test of
mental ability (Gale, 1996). Ebbinghaus was the cofounder of the first German
psychology journal, the Journal of Psychology and Physiology of the Sense Organs
in 1890 and wrote two text books: The Principles of Psychology(1902) and A
Summary of Psychology (1908).

Beer, Colin G. (1993). “Psychology, Experimental”. Encarta
Encyclopedia. 1998. Microsoft Corperation. (1993-1998). “Educational
Psychology”. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia Microsoft Corperation.

(1993-1998). “Memory and Mental Processes”. Microsoft Encarta
Encyclopedia. Myers, David. (1998). Psychology. New York. Worth Publishers.


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