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Hermann Ebbinghaus: biography of this German psychologist and philosopher

Hermann Ebbinghaus: biography of this German psychologist and philosopher

January 25, 2022

Hermann Ebbinghaus is widely known within the world of psychology. This important psychologist and philosopher was one of the first to employ scientific methodology in the study and analysis of a higher cognitive capacity. Ebbinghaus made several contributions to the world of psychology, being especially relevant for being a pioneer in the study of memory.

In this article we are going to see a short biography of Hermann Ebbinghaus .

  • Related article: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories"

Brief biography of Hermann Ebbinghaus

The birth of Hermann Ebbinghaus occurred on January 24, 1850, in the Prussian city of Barmen. Son of the wealthy merchant Carl Ebbinghaus and Julie Ebbinghaus, he was educated in a wealthy environment and in the Lutheran faith. What followed was one of the most remarkable research careers in the history of psychology.


Early years: training and military service

In 1867 a young Hermann Ebbinghaus would begin his university studies at the University of Bonn, interested in history and philology. However, during the course of their studies their interests ended up focusing on philosophy.

In 1870 he had to leave them temporarily to serve in the army in the Franco-Prussian War , after which he would resume his studies. He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1873, having developed a thesis based on the philosophy of the unconscious (from the philosophical approach of Hartmann).

After obtaining his doctorate, Ebbinghaus would make trips to England and France, where continue to form and perform different experiments while working as a tutor. During this time he would know Fechner's work based on psychophysics, convincing himself that it was possible to study the higher mental processes from a scientific and reliable perspective.


Thus, I would begin to be interested in what has turned out to be one of the most important and remarkable contributions of Ebbinghaus in the field of psychology: his studies on memory . In fact, he is considered as the father of the scientific study of memory.

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Marriage, offspring and publication of "On Memory"

Personally, in 1884 Ebbinghaus would contract marriage with Adelheid Julia Amalia Görlitz . A year later the son of both, Julius Ebbinghaus, would be born who with time would become an important neo-Kantian philosopher. That same year Ebbinghaus published in 1885 one of his most representative works, "Über das Gedächtnis" ("On memory"), which reflected his studies in this area.

Research on memory, vision and learning

Memory was not the only aspect that Ebbinghaus investigated. In 1890 he would begin to be interested and work on the sense of sight, specifically the perception of color. Together with König he would found the publication Zeitschrift für Psychologie und Physiologie der Sinnesorgane, focused on sensoperception from both a psychological and physiological perspective. In this aspect also highlights the study of optical illusions , discovering that the perception of the size of an object varies according to the size of those around it.


Four years later he would enter into a struggle for the direction of the philosophy department at the University of Berlin, which was awarded to the well-known psychologist Carl Stumpf. After that he would accept a position at the University of Breslau, where he would return to work again in the exploration of memory and learning.

In this last aspect he would also focus to a great extent, trying to investigate while generating a practical use of his research in the educational field. Created the gap test , based on the reading of sentences in which the subject had to fill in the gaps left by the evaluator (first read the complete sentences and then the same but without certain words or groups of words). This test was aimed at assessing intelligence and memory in children.

Death of Ebbinghaus, and legacy

In 1905, he decided to leave the University of Breslau to move to Halle, the city where he would live his last years. Ebbinghaus died in this city on February 26, 1909, as a result of pneumonia .

Throughout his life he made several publications of great interest, and his research and methods continue to be used (albeit modified) to this day for various purposes.He is one of the first psychologists to use scientific methodology to analyze superior cognitive processes, his legacy being broad despite having no disciples or creating currents of thought.

Study of memory and other scientific contributions

These studies would begin after 1878, at which time Hermann Ebbinghaus would begin to carry out various experiments using himself as an experimental subject and applying methodology based on psychophysics. It was usual to use lists of meaningless words or pseudowords , because they allowed to measure in a more objective way the capacity of memorization when not being able to use elements like the meaning to support and facilitate the memory. Generated the words randomly and then memorized them and tried to reproduce them orally.

Soon after, in 1880, he would be appointed assistant professor (somewhat like an associate professor) at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin. The results of the different experiments on memory and its subsequent analysis would lead him to elaborate concepts as important and influential as the curve of oblivion and that of learning or the role of the review of the material to learn when maintaining a content in memory.

  • Related article: "What is the curve of oblivion?"

Hermann Ebbinghaus (January 2022).


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