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Hermann Ebbinghaus: Biography and Studies

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Hermann Ebbinghaus: Biography and Studies

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Hermann Ebbinghaus: Biography and Studies

Hermann Ebbinghaus was born on January 24, 1850, to Lutheran merchants in Barmen, Germany. At the age of 17, he entered the University of Bonn, where he developed an avid interest in philosophy. However, his studies were temporarily interrupted in 1870 at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, when he enlisted in the Prussian army. After the Franco-Prussian War he continued his philosophical studies at Bonn, completing a dissertation on Eduard von Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious, and received his doctorate in 1873.

In psychology Ebbinghaus found his own way. None of his instructors determined in any marked way the direction of his thinking. A major influence, however, was the combination of philosophical and scientific points of view he found in Gustav Theodor Fechner. He acknowledged his debt in the systematic treatise Die Grundzüge der Psychologie, which he dedicated to Fechner. Ebbinghaus was an unusually good lecturer. His buoyancy and humor, together with the unusual clarity and ease of his presentation, assured him of large audiences. Another valuable trait was his Jamesian tolerance, which led him as editor to publish widely diverse opinions, a policy vital to a young science.

In 1885 a monograph from the pen of this young psychologist opened a new vista on experimentation. Published in German as Über das Gedchtnis and eventually translated into English as Memory. A Contribution to Experimental Psychology, this monograph marked the beginning of programmatic experimental research on higher mental processes. Using himself as a subject, gathering data for over a year, 1879-1880, and then replicating the entire procedure, 1883-1884, before publishing. In order to proceed with his research, Ebbinghaus had first to invent stimulus materials. These needed to be relatively simple, neutral as to meaning, and homogeneous. They needed to be available in large numbers and to allow quantitative...