Unlocking the Secrets of Memory: The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve

Damian Dąbrowski
3 min readApr 9, 2024


The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is a seminal concept in the field of psychology, providing insight into the nature of memory and forgetting. Named after the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, who pioneered the experimental study of memory, the forgetting curve illustrates how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. This article explores the origins, implications, and applications of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve in both educational settings and everyday life.

The Discovery by Hermann Ebbinghaus

In the late 19th century, Hermann Ebbinghaus embarked on a series of experiments to study the memorization and forgetting of nonsensical syllables. Through rigorous self-experimentation, he discovered that memory loss occurred rapidly over the first few days after learning, but the rate of forgetting slowed down over time. He quantified this phenomenon in what is now known as the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

The Shape of Memory — Understanding the Curve

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve is typically represented as a steep decline of memory retention over time, which levels off as the rate of forgetting decreases. Ebbinghaus found that within 24 hours, an individual tends to forget an average of 70% of new information if no effort is made to retain it. However, the curve is not one-size-fits-all; it can vary based on several factors such as the complexity of information, the individual’s cognitive abilities, and environmental factors.

A representation of the forgetting curve, with retained memory halving each day.

Implications for Learning and Retention

The implications of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve are profound for the field of education and for individuals seeking to optimize their learning. It underscores the importance of review and reinforcement of information to combat the natural tendency to forget. The curve also suggests that distributed practice or spacing out learning sessions over time is more effective than massed practice, known as cramming.

Forgetting Curve with Spaced Repetition.

Strategies to Combat Forgetting

Several strategies have been developed to help learners retain information and ‘flatten’ the Forgetting Curve:

  1. Spaced Repetition: Revisiting information at increasing intervals reinforces memory and makes it more resistant to forgetting.
  2. Active Recall: Actively retrieving information from memory, rather than passively reviewing it, strengthens memory traces.
  3. Mnemonic Devices: Using acronyms, rhymes, or visualizations can make information more memorable.
  4. Meaningful Learning: Understanding the underlying concepts makes information more coherent and easier to remember.
  5. Varied Practice: Mixing different types of problems or material in a single study session can improve retention.
  6. Applications Beyond the Classroom:
    The principles of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve extend beyond academic learning. They are relevant to skills training, professional development, language acquisition, and even the retention of personal experiences. Understanding how memory works can help individuals in all walks of life to retain important information and minimize forgetting.

The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve has stood the test of time as a fundamental model of memory. It serves as a reminder of the transient nature of our memories and the need for deliberate strategies to preserve them. By applying the lessons learned from Ebbinghaus’s research, learners can enhance their memory retention and make the most of the information they encounter daily. As we continue to delve into the mysteries of the human mind, the Forgetting Curve remains a powerful tool for unlocking the secrets of memory.



Damian Dąbrowski

Hi, I’m Damian, a Software Engineer who loves building educational apps and simulations..