We get off the train in Liepzig, where we meet

Anna Meyer Berliner

Wilhelm Wundt in the circle of his co-workers

In Liepzig, researchers and students from all over the world came to the first Institute of Experimental Psychology, established by Wilhelm Wundt during the winter semester of 1879-80.

Anna Meyer Berliner was the only woman to be admitted.

She asked to talk directly with Wundt to illustrate her background, her lectures and laboratory work. At this meeting she was accepted as a doctoral candidate. In her words:

“Actually all this was just a matter of chance and not my special merit, but thus I became the first and I think the only woman who took her PhD under Wundt”.

Her doctoral advisor was Max Brahn and Wundt was her second advisor, who attended her thesis defense in the summer of 1913. Her thesis was about the judgements of objective and subjective visual sensations. She was not interested in the actual objective and subjective sensory experiences but how the judgements were affected by the features of the stimulus causing it to falsely evoke a subjective impression.


As reported by Mary Calkins (1916) “A suggestion of one of the self psychologist’s distinctions between perception and imagination is found in Anna Berliner’s experimental study of the ability to distinguish perception from imagination”.

Berliner published the results of her research in three different languages – German, Japanese and English -, making distinguished contributions to experimental psychology and to a new branch of psychology known as psychology of advertising.

Her life circumstances made her transfer her legacy to her husband alma mater. The Faculty of Physics of the University of Göttingen, after her death, established the Berliner-Ungewitter-Awards for outstanding diploma degrees and doctorates and to fund scholarships for highly qualified young scientists.

As she wrote in her curriculum vitae:

“Interruptions in the chronological list of professional work are due to two wars, a revolution, the Japanese earthquake and research work”.

Her methodology in psychological research is still valid:

“In preparation for doing an experiment ourselves we were told over and over again the same routine. All details about the equipment, the procedure, the instruction had to be written up”.

“At that time any experiment published by one of the laboratories would be repeated immediately by other universities, and without an exact description of all the details a critical evaluation would not have been possible”.

The representation of a series of results reported in Table 8, Berliner 1918

In 1918 she published The influence of mental work on the mental image: in two series of experiments Berliner determined the attributes of the memory image that were more disrupted by mental work. She recorded a total of 192 observations from 8 subjects and compared visual memory images experienced in the morning with those at night, as well as imagery ability before and after a short period of intensive mental work. The experimental design consisted in an illustration shown to the subject for five seconds, then the subject would close his eyes and wait thirty seconds, while the experimenter provided verbal distraction. After this interval of time a starting signal was given and as soon as the participant succeeded in seeing the mental image he pressed a key. The pressing and releasing of the key was recorded by a pointer on a kymograph and the time was measured by a metronome. The results showed that i) the time a subject keeps a mental image and ii) the average duration of the single image are sensitive indicators of the impact of mental work. Moreover, Berliner found that the mental image deteriorates with practice:

“the more an observer occupies himself with mental imagery the harder he finds it to call up a satisfactory image”.

During the Japanese years between 1920 and 1925 she initiated a new discipline in industrial psychology, the psychology of advertising. 

She studied the psychology of aesthetic judgments and outlined the differences between Japanese and Western advertisers in emphasizing the creation of an “atmosphere value” to allow observers to recognize at a glance a product. An important study on Japanese psychology of tea ceremony was interrupted by the 1923 Tokyo heartquake and took her three years to complete.

In the United States Berliner was offered only temporary appointments to teach, notwithstanding, as reported by Matthew Alpern (1978) she was “certainly one of the foremost authorities on visual perception”.

In a series of articles for the journal Optometric Weekly, she developed new general rules to predict many of the classical optical illusions. Text and formulas were enriched by her drawings.

She showed that the distortion of straight and curved lines in geometrical fields can be expressed by the function “y= c sin 4α”, where “c” is a constant and “α” is the angle of intersection of the lines. The distortion curve is the integral of this function.

In the paper published in 1949 she re-examined the perceived displacement of curved lines into three dimensions.  Some of the conclusions of the study were that:

“if one artificial half-view contains at least one pair of crossing lines, the half-views unite to a total view such as would be obtained from corresponding natural views”. This spatial organization “represents a compromise solution and belongs to the group of compromise organizations of which luster, transparency and rivalry are examples”. Furthermore, in Mach’s monocular stereopsis “the tendency of crossing lines to leave the plane […] varies in accordance to the formula y= c sin 4α”.

Indeed, Berliner discovered a general relation that was called by Alpern the ‘Berliner’s Law’ (1978):

“The modern fashion in this subject is computer simulation of these “illusions” with  physiological models of cortical neurons which perform Fourier transformations of the retinal light distribution with narrow band tuned spatial frequency channels, or feature detection or whatever. So far, it is all handwaving. But that model […] will merit respect and attention”

Figures from Berliner, 1949

A portrait of young Anna Berliner

The newspaper article about Berliner’s murder

Biography. Anna Meyer was born on December 21, 1888 in  Halberstadt,  Province of Saxony, by Henriette and Israel, an entrepreneur who had a business specialized in women’s fashion. She had three sisters: Grete, Elisabeth, and Gertrude. Later in life, during the Nationalist Socialist period, her mother and her sister Elisabeth were imprisoned by the Nazis. Henriette was murdered in 1942 and Elisabeth managed to escape and to emigrate to the United States.

Anna Meyer studied at the Realgymnasium in Hannover from 1905 to 1909 and, after graduating, she studied medicine for two semesters in Freiburg in 1909 and one semester in Berlin in 1910, where she attended the institute of psychology.

In 1910 she married Siegfried Berliner and followed him to Leipzig, where he continued his studies in mathematics, physics and economics and worked as a teacher in commercial college schools.

After receiving her doctoral degree, Anna Meyer Berliner and her husband moved to Tokyo. A letter from Wundt to Tetsujiro Inouye, helped her to be admitted as a student at the Imperial University “a rare event for a foreigner and a woman” as highlighted by Alpern (1978). In 1914 the war broke out and her husband was interned in the Bandō camp, in Japan, as war prisoner. In 1915 Berliner left Japan for the United States, where she studied psychology at the Berkeley University of California with George M. Stratton, and mathematics with Clarence I. Lewis. One year later she moved to Washington and then to New York with a scholarship at Columbia University. In addition, she worked as a psychologist in the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. She spent five years in the United States. In 1920, after her husband was released, she returned to Japan and devoted herself to the subject of advertising and worked as a psychological consultant for the company Hoshi Pharmaceuticals in its advertising department. In 1925, after the stabilization of the Weimar Republic, the Berliners returned to Germany. Their home was regularly visited by Japanese students and researchers. In 1935, due to  the exacerbation of the  racial laws, it became very difficult to Berliner to continue her research work, although she was allowed to teach (she obtained a “venia  legendi“) at the Psychological Institute in Leipzig. In 1938, the Berliners traveled to the United States to escape from Nazi Germany. In Columbus, Ohio, Berliner gave Japanese lessons for adults at Ohio State University and translated her work on advertising for the University of Chicago. In 1946-1947 she taught psychology at the Northern Illinois College of Optometry. Nevertheless, in the academic year 1948/49 she did not have an academic appointment. At the age of 60, it was difficult to find a stable academic position, especially for a Jewish woman. In 1949, Berliner moved with her husband to Forest Grove in the state of Oregon, where she pursued a temporary teaching position. In 1951, she became professor and head of the Psychological Laboratory. She retired in 1962.

 Anna Meyer Berliner died on May 16, 1977 at the age of 88. She was murdered in her house in Forest Grove by Jim Watkins, a 16-year-old student at the Forest Grove High School, presumably during a robbery.


  • 1963    Lifetime Fellow of the International Council of Psychologists
  • 1971    Apollo Award, a great honor of the American Optometric Association


We are grateful to Eva Guggemos at the Pacific University Archives for sending us the original documents and images from the “Anna Berliner Collection”.


To cite this profile, please use the following format:

Metitieri, T., Mele, S. and Favero, M. (2017). Profile of Anna Meyer Berliner. In WiNEu, European Women in Neuroscience, Untold stories: the Women Pioneers of Neuroscience in Europe. Retrieved from

Selected work

For a complete list, see Kindermann T.A., Guthrie G.D., Wesley F. (1993): Anna Berliner, Wilhelm Wundts einzige Studentin. Psychologie und Geschichte (413): 263-272.

  • Berliner A. (1914): Subjektivität und Objektivität von Sinneseindrücken. Leipzig/Berlin: Engelmann.
  • Berliner A. (1918): The influence of mental work on the mental image. American Journal of Psychology 29: 355-370.
  • Berliner A. (1918): Aesthetic judgements of school children. Journal of Applied Psychology 2: 229-242.
  • Berliner A. (1923): The importance of ranking methods for advertising. Tokio: Shinrigaka.
  • Berliner A. (1930): Der Teekult in Japan. Leipzig: Schindler, Verlag der Asia Major.
  • Berliner A. (1948): Lectures on visual psychology. Chicago, IL: Professional Press.
  • Berliner A. (1949): Spatial displacement of straight and curved lines. American Journal of Psychology 62: 20-31.
  • Berliner A. (1955): The Rorschach determinant in terms of visual psychology. The Optometric Weekly 46: 13-20.


  • Alpern M. (1978): Memorial lecture. Pacific University Archives, Anna Berliner Collection, ACC.2011.260.
  • Ball L. (2010): Profile of Anna Berliner. In Rutherford A. (ed.), Psychology’s Feminist Voices Multimedia Internet Archive. Retrieved from
  • Bringmann W.G., Ungerer G.A. (1980): The Foundation of the Institute for Experimental Psychology at Leipzig University. Psychological Research 42: 5-18.
  • Calkins MW. (1916): The self in recent psychology: A critical summary. Psychological Bulletin 13(1), 20-27.
  •  Das Japanische Gedaechtnis
  • Kindermann T.A., Guthrie G.D., Wesley F. (1993): Anna Berliner, Wilhelm Wundts einzige Studentin. Psychologie und Geschichte (413): 263-272.
  • Rode H.K., Spang C.W. (2016): Anna and Sigfried Berliner. Two Academic Bridge Builders between Germany and Japan. In Cho J.M., Roberts L.M., Spang C.W. (eds.). Transnational Encounters between Germany and Japan: Perceptions of Partnership in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
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