On This Day … 24 January

People (Births)

  • 1850 – Hermann Ebbinghaus, German psychologist (d. 1909).
  • 1853 – Sigbert Josef Maria Ganser, German psychiatrist (d. 1931).

Hermann Ebbinghaus

Hermann Ebbinghaus (24 January 1850 to 26 February 1909) was a German psychologist who pioneered the experimental study of memory, and is known for his discovery of the forgetting curve and the spacing effect. He was also the first person to describe the learning curve. He was the father of the neo-Kantian philosopher Julius Ebbinghaus.

Early Life

Ebbinghaus was born in Barmen, in the Rhine Province of the Kingdom of Prussia, as the son of a wealthy merchant, Carl Ebbinghaus. Little is known about his infancy except that he was brought up in the Lutheran faith and was a pupil at the town Gymnasium. At the age of 17 (1867), he began attending the University of Bonn, where he had planned to study history and philology. However, during his time there he developed an interest in philosophy. In 1870, his studies were interrupted when he served with the Prussian Army in the Franco-Prussian War. Following this short stint in the military, Ebbinghaus finished his dissertation on Eduard von Hartmann’s Philosophie des Unbewussten (philosophy of the unconscious) and received his doctorate on 16 August 1873, when he was 23 years old. During the next three years, he spent time at Halle and Berlin.

Professional Career

After acquiring his PhD, Ebbinghaus moved around England and France, tutoring students to support himself. In England, he may have taught in two small schools in the south of the country (Gorfein, 1885). In London, in a used bookstore, he came across Gustav Fechner’s book Elemente der Psychophysik (Elements of Psychophysics), which spurred him to conduct his famous memory experiments. After beginning his studies at the University of Berlin, he founded the third psychological testing lab in Germany (third to Wilhelm Wundt and Georg Elias Müller). He began his memory studies here in 1879. In 1885 – the same year that he published his monumental work, Über das Gedächtnis. Untersuchungen zur experimentellen Psychologie, later published in English under the title Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology – he was made a professor at the University of Berlin, most likely in recognition of this publication. In 1890, along with Arthur König, he founded the psychological journal Zeitschrift für Physiologie und Psychologie der Sinnesorgane (“The Psychology and Physiology of the Sense Organs'”).

In 1894, he was passed over for promotion to head of the philosophy department at Berlin, most likely due to his lack of publications. Instead, Carl Stumpf received the promotion. As a result of this, Ebbinghaus left to join the University of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), in a chair left open by Theodor Lipps (who took over Stumpf’s position when he moved to Berlin). While in Breslau, he worked on a commission that studied how children’s mental ability declined during the school day. While the specifics on how these mental abilities were measured have been lost, the successes achieved by the commission laid the groundwork for future intelligence testing. At Breslau, he again founded a psychological testing laboratory.

In 1902, Ebbinghaus published his next piece of writing entitled Die Grundzüge der Psychologie (Fundamentals of Psychology). It was an instant success and continued to be long after his death. In 1904, he moved to Halle where he spent the last few years of his life. His last published work, Abriss der Psychologie (Outline of Psychology) was published six years later, in 1908. This, too, continued to be a success, being re-released in eight different editions. Shortly after this publication, on 26 February 1909, Ebbinghaus died from pneumonia at the age of 59.

Sigbert Ganser

Sigbert Josef Maria Ganser (24 January 1853 to 04 January 1931) was a German psychiatrist born in Rhaunen.

He earned his medical doctorate in 1876 from the University of Munich. Afterwards he worked briefly at a psychiatric clinic in Würzburg, and later as an assistant to neuroanatomist Bernhard von Gudden (1824-1886) in Munich. In 1886, he became head of the psychiatric department at Dresden General Hospital. Among his students was neurologist Hans Queckenstedt (1876-1918).

Sigbert Ganser is remembered for a hysterical disorder that he first described in 1898. He identified the disorder in three prisoners while working at a prison in Halle. The features included approximate or nonsensical answers to simple questions, perceptual abnormalities, and clouding of consciousness. Ganser believed that these symptoms were an associative reaction caused by an unconscious attempt by the patient to escape from an intolerable mental situation. The disorder was to become known as Ganser syndrome.

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