Page:EB1911 - Volume 22.djvu/595

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MEMORY AND ASSOCIATION]
579
PSYCHOLOGY


closely connected with certain other psychical constants, such as the duration of the psychical present and of the primary memory image, the tempo of movements of attention (§§ 28, 29), &c. There are isolated investigations of these several conditions, but the subject as a whole still awaits systematic treatment! That it is not wanting in interest is evident when we consider that if our span of pretension were enlarged, a corresponding increase in the variety and range of metre and rhyme in poetry, of “ phrase ” in music, and of evolution in the dance would be possible. The limits at present imposed on these and like complexities find their ultimate explanation in the constants just mentioned.

With lines of greater length than seven syllables some repetition is requisite before they can be said correctly: the number of such repetitions was found by Ebbinghaus to increase very rapidly with the number of syllables to be learnt. In his own case, for lines of 12, 16, 24, 36 syllables the repetitions necessary were on the average 16~6, 3o, 44, 55 respectively. Thus for a line exceeding in length that of the span of pretension only about five times, he required fifty-five times as many repetitions, if we may call the single presentation of the syllables a “ repetition.” Substituting poetry for gibberish of equal amount, Ebbinghaus found that one-tenth the number of repetitions sufficed; the enormous saving thus effected showing how numerous and intimate are the ready-made associations that “ rhyme and reason ” involve. But at one and the same time to memorize five verses even of sense requires more than five times as many repetitions as the memorizing of one.» Two or three lines of inquiry here present themselves, e.g. (1) as to the comparative value of successive repetitions when several are taken together; (2) as to retention after an interval, as (a) a function of the number of repetitions previously made, and as (b) a function of the time; (3) as to the respective effects of more or less cumulating, or more or less distributing, the repetitions, on the number of these required.

1. It is at once obvious that beyond a certain point exhaustion of attention renders further repetition for a time futile; thus Ebbinghaus found 64 repetitions at one sitting of six 16-syllable nonsense verses, a task lasting some three-quarters of an hour, “ was apt to bring on asthenia, a sort of epileptic aura, and the like!" But keeping well within this heroic limit, a certain “ law of diminishing return, ” to use an economic analogy, discloses itself. Thus taking a line of ro syllables, the number of syllables reproduced correctly and in their proper order, after 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 “ repetitions, ” were 2'2, 2-5, 2-8, 3~4, 3-9 respectively, as the averages of a series of experiments with each of eight persons.” “ The first repetition is undoubtedly the best, ” assuming, of course, that the subjects start with their attention fully concentrated. Some persons naturally do this, many do not; the experimenter has therefore to take special precautions to secure uniformity in this respect.

2. (a) On relearning a line after an interval of twenty-four hours there was in Ebbinghaus's case an average saving of one repetition for every three made the day before. A line of 16 syllables, for example, required some 30 repetitions, and could then be said off correctly. If only 8 repetitions were taken at first, the line being “ under learnt, ” it probably appeared quite strange the next day, -yet the proportional saving was no less; on the other hand, if an additional 30 repetitions followed immediately on the first, the line being “ doubly learnt, ” in spite of the Cf. Dietze, “ Untersuchungen iiber den Umfang des Bewusstseins u.s.w., " Phil. Studien (1885), pp. 362 sqq.; L. W. Stern, “ Psychische Prasenzzeit, " Ztschr. f. Psychologie (1897), xiii. 325 sqq.; Daniels, “ Memory After-image and Attention, ” Am. Jour. of Psychology (1893), vi. 558 sqq.

2 W. G. Smith, “The Place of Repetition in Memory, ” Psychological Rev. (1896), pp. 20 sqq. The hgures given are unquestionably low, partly, as the writer points out, in consequence of the method employed, but partly, as his detailed tables show, in consequence of the lax attention of three out of his eight subjects. Objections have been taken to the plan of this investigation, but it is doubtful if they invalidate the result here mentioned. Cf. Jost, “ Die Associationsfestigkeit in ihrer Abhangigkeit von der Vertheilung der Wiederholungen, " Zlschr. f. Psycholagie, xiv. 455 sqq.

familiarity next day apparent, the proportional saving was no greater. The absolute saving would, of course, be less. We are so far led to infer that the stronger associations effected by many repetitions at one time fall off more rapidly than weaker associations effected by fewer repetitions in the same way. Herbart in his “ psychical dynamics ”~influenced probably by physical analogies-conjectured that the “ sinking ” or “inhibition ” of presentations generally was proportional to their intensity: the less there was to sink, the slower the sinking became. Recent experiments certainly point in this direction. (b) As to retention as a function of the time-we all know that memories fade with time, but not at what precise rate. Ebbinghaus, by a series of prolonged experiments, ascertained the rate to be proportional to the logarithm of the time-a result already implied in that connecting retention and intensity; albeit in inquiries of this kind independent confirmation is always of value.

3. Had the proportional saving just described held good indefinitely, some IOC repetitions of the 16 syllables at one time should have dispensed with any further repetition twenty-four hours afterwards; whereas, in fact, this result seemed never attainable. Beyond a certain degree of accumulation, an ever diminishing return was manifest, and that apparently short of the stage at which exhaustion of attention began to be felt. But, contrariwise, when the repetitions were distributed over several days, an ever-increasing efficiency was then the result. Thus, for Ebbinghaus, 38 repetitions spread over three days were as effective as 68 taken together. The results of careful experiments by Jost with two different subjects, using G. E. Müller's “ method of telling” (to be described later on), are still more conclusive. Comparing 8 repetitions on three successive days with 4 repetitions on six, and 2 on twelve, the efficiencies, tested twenty-four hours later, were respectively as 11- 5, 35, and 54; and probably, as ]ost surmises, the effect of the maximum distribution-single “ repetition ” on twenty-four successive days-would have been more advantageous still, securing in fact the superiority of a first impression (cf. 1, above) on every occasion. This result again, is in part explained by the law of sinking already found. For if the sinking were simply proportional to the time, or were independent of the intensity, there would so far be no reason why one mode of distributing a given number of repetitions should be more economical than another. There is, however, another reason for this superiority, less clearly implied, to which we shall come presently.

Invariably, and almost of necessity, a more or less complex rhythmical articulation becomes apparent as the syllables are repeated, even when-as in the improved methods of G. E. Müller and his collaboraleurs-they are presented singly and at regular intervals. A series of twelve syllables, for example, would be connected into six trochees, *with a caesura in the middle of the verse; while in each half of it the first and last accented syllables would be specially emphasized; thus: brim fis I lip t5l I gén kér diib naf | Src. In trying to suppress this tendency and to repeat the syllables in a monotonous, staccalo fashion, just as they were presented, the tempo, though really unchanged, seemed to be distinctly quickened, a consequence, doubtless, of the greater effort involved. Moreover, the attempt, which was seldom successful, about doubled the number of repetitions required for learning off, thereby showing how much is gained by this psychical organization of disconnected material. But the gain thus ensured was manifest in other ways. Each foot, Whether dis syllabic or trisyllabic, became a new complex unit, the elements to be connected by successive association being thereby reduced to a half or a third, and the whole line seemingly shortened. The varied intonation, again, helped' to fix the place of each foot in the verse, thus further facilitating the mind's survey of the whole. Such a transformation can hardly be accounted for so long as retention and association are regarded as merely mechanical and passive processes.

Psychical rhythm, upon which we here touch, has also been experimentally investigated at great length, alike in its physiological