Hermann Ebbinghaus

Hermann Ebbinghaus ( born January 24, 1850 in Barmen, † February 26, 1909 in Halle / Saale ) was a German psychologist. His son was the philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus, his grandson was the philologist Ernst Albrecht Ebbinghaus.


Ebbinghaus (today a part of Wuppertal ) was born 1850 in Barmen, the son of a family of entrepreneurs. At the age of 17 he began the study of history at the Rheinische Friedrich- Wilhelms University, Bonn. In 1868 he became a member of the Corps Guestphalia Bonn. He turned to philosophy. His dissertation dealt with the unconscious. He habilitated at the Friedrich- Wilhelms- University, where he became professor in 1886. Berlin's first laboratory for experimental psychology was established by Ebbinghaus. In his famous dispute with Wilhelm Dilthey, he defended experimental psychology towards the understanding psychology. 1898 Ebbinghaus moved on to Breslau, 1905 in Halle, where he died in 1909. His grave is located there on the St. Lawrence Cemetery.

Ebbinghaus was the founder of experimental research of memory and discoverer of the learning curve and the forgetting curve. Ebbinghaus was also the inventor of the three still valid psychological measurement of human memory performance: recognition method, reproduction method and saving method. New was his experimental approach to operate with learning nonsensical syllables to minimize the errors that result from experiences and content.

In 1896 he led a kind of sentence completion test with school children to investigate the effect of fatigue on performance. He let the teacher the ability of children to assess then the results assigned to a lower, middle and upper third. He found a significant relationship between the test results and teacher judgment, without being able to identify with the former means a correlation. This was probably the first test of verbal intelligence in a group.

Ebbinghaus was the first of the KVK trigrams used to perform memory experiments regardless of the vocabulary of the subject.

Ebbinghaus and the history of psychology

" Psychology has a long past but a short history ", wrote in 1907 the pioneer of memory research. This sentence may seem surprising, but humanity has been since ancient times dealt with psychological issues. However, Ebbinghaus plays with his formulation of the short time since the psychology of scientific methods is operated.


Hans Jürgen Eysenck cites in his book Sigmund Freud - the decline and end of psychoanalysis on page 36 - but without mentioning the source! - A saying, the Ebbinghaus said to have made in connection with ideas of Sigmund Freud the unconscious:

"What is new about these theories is not true, and what is true is not new. "

However, Eysenck was mistaken in his polemic. The set comes in part from the dissertation of Hermann Ebbinghaus About the Hartmannsche Philosophy of the Unconscious, on the other hand the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann is meant.

Writings (selection )

  • On Memory: Studies on experimental psychology. Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1885. First edition as a ( digitized and full text in German Text Archive )
  • Unchanged reprint of the text of 1885 Darmstadt. University Press, 1992, ISBN 3-534-05255-2.
  • Urmanuskript "On the memory of " 1880 - With an introduction by W. Traxel, Passau: Passavia University Press, 1983, ISBN 3-922016-35-9.