The history of DiSC started long ago: the assessment has evolved to become more reliable, easier to administer and to understand for the user. While the latest release of a DiSC product was recent, the initial theoretical work dates from the 1920’s.

DiSC finds it’s origin in Marston’s theory. William Moulton Marston was a physiological psychologist who studied at Harvard. His book, Emotions of Normal People, written in 1928, explains how normal human emotions trigger behaviour that might differ among groups of people and how a person’s behaviour might change over time.

His work focused on directly observable and measurable psychological phenomena. He was interested in using practical explanations to help people understand and manage their experiences and relationships.

Marston’s theory explains the behavioural expression of emotions though four primary types, stemming from the person’s perceptions of self in relationship to his/her environment. Marston labelled these four types as Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance.

From theory to assessment

disc-partners-history-of-disc-walter-vernon-clarkeFrom theory to assessment

Walter V. Clarke, an industrial psychologist, was first to build an assessment instrument (behavioural profile) using Marston’s theories, even though that was not his first intent.

In 1956 he published the Activity Vector Analysis, a check-list of adjectives on which he asked people to mark descriptors they identified as true of themselves.

The tool, used by Clarke since 1948, was intended for personnel selection by businesses. The four factors in his data (aggressive, sociable, stable and avoidant) were based on Marston’s model. About 10 years later, Walter Clarke Associates developed a new version of this instrument for John Cleaver.

It was called Self Discription. Instead of using a check-list, this assessment forced respondents to make a choice between two or more terms. Factor analysis of this assessment added to the support of a DISC-based instrument, The Personal Profile System® (PPS). Self Discription was used by John Geier, Ph.D., to create the original Personal Profile System® (PPS) in the 1970s.

Through hundreds of clinical interviews, John Geier furthered the understanding of the 15 basic patterns discovered by Clarke. He then sold the company he founded, Performax, to Carlson Learning, which later became Inscape Publishing, before being acquired by Wiley & Sons.

The Personal Profile System

The Personal Profile System® (PPS)

The Personal Profile System® (PPS) disc-partners-history-of-disc-PPS2800-profileSelf Discription was used by John Geier, Ph.D., to create the original Personal Profile System® (PPS) in the 1970s. Through hundreds of clinical interviews, he furthered the understanding of the 15 basic patterns published by Clarke.

Inscape Publishing improved this instrument’s reliability by adding new items and removing non-functioning items. The new assessment was named the Personal Profile System 2800 Series (PPS 2800) and was first published in 1994.

It was used for increasing self-awareness in a setting where an individual could use the insights in her interactions with others. This self-scored and self-interpreted assessment is now known as DiSC Classic.

In 2003 Inscape took DiSC Classic a step further by launching DiSC Classic 2.0, an online version of the paper profile that includes more rich narrative feedback.

Marston's Legacy

William Moulton Marston’s Legacy Marston’s life story is an interesting one-filled with accomplishments that at first seem unrelated. He was a lawyer, a psychologist, invented the first functional lie detector polygraph, created the model for emotions and behavior of normal people, authored self-help books and created the Wonder Woman comic.

Born: May 9, 1893 in Cliftondale, MA
Died: May 2, 1947 in Rye, NY, from cancer
Wife: Elizabeth Holloway (m. 1915, two children)
Polyamorous partner: Olive Byrne (former student, two children) Education: BA from Harvard University (1915), LLB from Harvard Law School (1918), PhD in psychology from Harvard University (1921), teacher at American University

Comic Book Hall of Fame induction: 2006

The Lie Detector – Marston’s Earliest Professional Years disc-partners-history-of-disc-marton-lie-detector
Having discovered a correspondence between blood pressure and lying, he built a device to measure changes in a person’s blood pressure while the subject was being questioned. Marston formally published his early polygraph findings in 1917 on the lie detection invention he first constructed in 1915.

During the 1920s and 30s Marston was an active lecturer and consulted with government groups. Unlike many psychologists of the time, he was more interested in the behavior of normal people rather than abnormal psychology. He gained the attention of the federal government for his research. He also sought the attention of the courts and the public by publishing widely.

Following the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s, Marston offered his services to the Lindbergh family.

Psychology, Emotions and Behavior – Marston’s model

In the early 20s Marston’s work continued to be significant in the courts and legal system; however, it evolved in 1924 when he first studied the concepts of will and a person’s sense of power and their effect on personality and human behavior. His work in consciousness, colors, primary emotions and bodily symptoms also contributed greatly to the field of psychology.

Emotions of Normal People, the 1928 book formally presented his findings. He published a second book, DISC, Integrative Psychology, in 1931. DISC came, by design, from Marston’s search for measurements of the energy of behavior and consciousness.

Marston did not develop an assessment from his model, others later did. He did, however, apply his model and theory in the real world when he consulted with Universal Studios in 1930 to help them transition from melodramatic silent pictures to movies with audio.

Marston's Writing

Writing for the public – Entertainment and self-help books:

A Tale of the Caesar, a historical novel was published in 1932. It was re-published in 1953 as The Private Life of Julius Caesar after Marston’s death to capitalize on the release of a film by Universal with the same name. Three other books followed on topics of popularity, courage, attitudes and determination. They were mass-marketed to the public in the emerging self-help industry. Nearly a century later, Marston’s finest work remains in either the entertainment, judicial or self-help training industry. Ever a devotee of entertainment, he even wrote a biography, F.F. Proctor, Vaudeville Pioneer, in 1943 in the midst of his greatest contribution to entertainment, Wonder Woman. disc-partners-history-of-disc-marston-wonder-woman

Wonder Woman – William Moulton Marston as Charles Moulton Marston was schooled in Greek and Roman classics as a young man. He was also intimately and personally involved with the earliest movements for women’s rights, including issues of birth control, voting and career equity. It is no surprise that William Moulton Marston’s most famous work is the creation of the comic book heroine, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman emerges on the scene in December 1941 in issue #8 of All Star Comics.

She is created and brilliantly presented with Greek and Roman goddess archetypes; she uses a lasso for truth and her heroic behaviors have will, power, and the use of the behavioral style dimensions of DISC–dominance, influence, submission, and compliance—to accomplish her missions. It would seem that neither Max Gaines of DC Comics nor William Moulton Marston were absolutely certain how a female heroine would be accepted. Max Gaines introduced the heroine in the back of a comic at first and William Moulton Marston used the pen name of Charles Moulton. There was little need to worry, Wonder Woman soon earned her own comic and was a success. Marston wrote Wonder Woman until his death in 1947 and was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2006.


• Bound to Blog: Wonder Woman #22“Our Women Are Our Future,” a 1942 interview with Marston published in Family Circle

Quotes by William Moulton Marston Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power, Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman. Every crisis offers you extra desired power. Besides the practical knowledge which defeat offers, there are important personality profits to be taken. Most of us actually stifle enough good impulses during the course of a day to change the current of our lives. It’s too bad for us ‘literary’ enthusiasts, but it’s the truth nevertheless – pictures tell any story more effectively than words. Realize what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold.

William Moulton Marston’s Bibliography Doctoral dissertation
• “Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception and constituent mental states.” (Harvard University, 1921)

• (1999 originally published 1928) Emotions of Normal People. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 0-415-21076-3
• (1930) Walter B. Pitkin & William M. Marston, The Art of Sound Pictures. New York: Appleton.
• (1931) Integrative Psychology: A Study of Unit Response (with C. Daly King, and Elizabeth Holloway Marston).
• (c. 1932) Venus with us; a tale of the Caesar. New York: Sears.
• (1936) You can be popular. New York: Home Institute.
• (1937) Try living. New York: Crowell.
• (1938) The lie detector test. New York: Smith.
• (1941) March on! Facing life with courage. New York: Doubleday, Doran.
• (1943) F.F. Proctor, vaudeville pioneer (with J.H. Feller). New York: Smith.

Journal articles
• (1917) “Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol 2(2), 117 – 163.
• (1920) “Reaction time symptoms of deception.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 72 – 87.
• (1921) “Psychological Possibilities in the Deception Tests.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 11, 551 – 570.
• (1923) “Sex Characteristics of Systolic Blood Pressure Behavior.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 387 – 419.
• (1924) “Studies in Testimony.” Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 15, 5 – 31.
• (1924) “A Theory of Emotions and Affection Based Upon Systolic Blood Pressure Studies.” American Journal of Psychology, 35, 469 – 506.
• (1925) “Negative type reaction-time symptoms of deception.” Psychological Review, 32, 241 – 247.
• (1926) “The psychonic theory of consciousness.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 21, 161 – 169.
• (1927) “Primary emotions.” Psychological Review, 34, 336 – 363.
• (1927) “Consciousness, motation, and emotion.” Psyche, 29, 40 – 52.
• (1927) “Primary colors and primary emotions.” Psyche, 30, 4 – 33.
• (1927) “Motor consciousness as a basis for emotion.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 22, 140-150.
• (1928) “Materialism, vitalism and psychology.” Psyche, 8, 15 – 34.
• (1929) “Bodily symptoms of elementary emotions.” Psyche, 10, 70 – 86.
• (1929) “The psychonic theory of consciousness—an experimental study,” (with C.D. King). Psyche, 9, 39 – 5.
• (1938) “‘You might as well enjoy it.'” Rotarian, 53, No. 3, 22 – 25.
• (1938) “What people are for.” Rotarian, 53, No. 2, 8-10.
• (1944) “Why 100,000,000 Americans read comics.” The American Scholar, 13 (1), 35-44.
• (1944) “Women can out-think men!” Ladies Home Journal, 61 (May), 4-5.
• (1947) “Lie detection’s bodily basis and test procedures,” in: P.L. Harriman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, New York, 354-363.

Articles • “Consciousness,” “Defense mechanisms,” and “Synapse” in the 1929 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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