Ultimate Psychology Guide
Ebbinghaus' experiment of memory
Hermann Ebbinghaus’ experiment can be considered the first scientific study of memory. In his experiment he used a list of nonsense syllables; he would memorize the items in this list and then measure how much of the list he remembered by using the method of savings. In this method after memorizing the list he compared the number of times he need to read the list to rememorize it. To quantify the amount of savings; he subtracted the number of trials it took to rememorize the list from the number of trials needed to memorize the list the first time. After that he multiplies the number by 100 and divides it by the number of trials needed to memorize the list the first time in order to come up with a percentage.
Well if it is not clear let me give you an example. Let us say that it takes you 15 trials to memorize a list. The next day you try to rememorize the list it takes you only 5 trials. To get a percentage you should subtract 5 from 15 multiply it by 100 and divide the result by 15. Your saving in this case according to Ebbinghaus would be 66.66%.
By using this method Ebbinghaus came up with his forgetting curve where the horizontal axis indicates the number of days and the vertical axis indicates the percentage of savings. In this curve we can notice that the percentage of savings decreases rapidly the first days and then at a certain point forgetting becomes slower. Of course we should take in consideration that these results would be different with practice.
Ebbinghaus’ study was influential in a way that all the studies of memory that came after it tended to use nonsense syllables. And despite some exceptions the study of meaningful material did not start until the 1950s.