Memory: A Contribution to Experimental Psychology/Translators' Introduction

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The publication by Ebbinghaus of the results of his experimental investigation of memory (1885) marks the application of precise scientific method to the study of the “higher mental processes.” By his invention of nonsense syllables as the material to be thus employed Ebbinghaus signalised the growing independence of experimental psychology from physics and physiology. For educational psychology his work is of especial importance because the field in which he worked was that of the ideational processes and because the problems which he attacked were functional and dynamic. The problem of the most efficient distribution of repetitions in committing material to memory may be taken to illustrate the identity in the nature of the questions investigated by him and those of especial interest to us to-day. Despite the fact that his experiments were performed only on himself and that the numerical results obtained are consequently limited in significance, his work stands as an embodiment of the essentials of scientific method. On account of its historical importance and also because of its intrinsic relation to present day problems and methods Ebbinghaus’s investigation should be known as directly as possible by all serious students of psychology. To facilitate this acquaintance is the purpose of this translation.

The translators wish to acknowledge their indebtedness to Professors Edward L. Thorndike, Robert S. Woodworth, and E. W. Bagster-Collins of Columbia University, to Professor Walter Dill Scott of Northwestern University and to Mrs. H. A. Ruger for assistance in revising manuscript and proof.