DiSC Model, a long story…

The history of 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 model 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

Walter V. Clarke DiSC Model origins

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, currently publishing DiSC model.

The Personal Profile System

The Personal Profile System® (PPS)

DiSC Model Theory is a long story…

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 the first DiSC model ever, now known as DiSC Classic.

In 2003 Inscape took DiSC Classic a step further by launching a nwe DiSC model, 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 DISC model, others later did. He did, however, apply his DISC 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.

The DiSC® Timeline

1928 Emotions of Normal People

The DiSC Model of Behavior was first proposed in 1928 by William Moulton Marston, a physiological psychologist, in a book entitled Emotions of Normal People. Like many psychologists of his time, Marston made a deliberate decision to focus only on psychological phenomena that were directly observable and measurable through objective means. His primary interest was in theories of emotions and the physical manifestations of emotional states. From his research, Marston theorized that the behavioral expression of emotions could be categorized into four primary types, stemming from the person’s perceptions of self in relationship to his or her environment. These four types were labeled by Marston as Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). He created a model that integrated these four types of emotional expression into a two-dimensional, two-axis space.

Marston himself had little interest in theoretical concepts of personality or temperament. Thus, he never created a psychological instrument to measure his model. The contemporary understanding of DiSC model maintains some of the core principles advanced by Marston, but the current presentation of the model also incorporates many additions and changes that are informed by advances in psychological measurement and theory.

1940 Early measurement of DiSC concepts: Activity Vector Analysis

The history of DiSC model measurement begins in the 1940s with an industrial psychologist by the name of Walter V. Clarke. Clarke built a test for use in personnel selection called the Activity Vector Analysis. He didn’t intentionally set out to build an instrument based on the DiSC model theory, as his approach was almost purely empirical (i.e., letting the data speak for itself) rather than theoretical (i.e., looking for something specific in the data). Following the “lexical approach” that was popular at that time, Clarke identified a list of adjectives that were commonly used in describing others. He collected information on the adjectives using a checklist format, on which people are asked to check the specific words that describe them. After collecting and analyzing the data on this instrument, he discovered that the four factors produced from the data (aggressive, sociable, stable, and avoidant) sounded a lot like DiSC model. Clarke concluded that the data could be best explained by Marston’s model of human behavior.

He scored the instrument in the following manner. He asked participants to complete the checklist twice, the first time responding by checking “any words I have heard others use to describe me,” and the second time responding by checking “any words that I feel honestly describe me.” The scores on the four scales, measured twice, were integrated into a single score for each scale (“composite self”), then ipsatized and plotted as a profile. The distance between the highest and lowest plotting points was divided into nine equal intervals regardless of the actual distance between the points. A segment number from 1 to 9 was assigned to each scale. The four-digit segment scores were then plotted as clusters in three-dimensional space, where distance between the clusters represented a measure of similarity. The clusters that came closest to each other were grouped into a mega-cluster (or pattern). Fifteen such mega-clusters (or patterns) emerged. It was these 15 basic patterns that formed the basis for interpretation of scores.

1950 Early measurement of DiSC concepts: Self-Description instrument

A staff member of Walter Clarke Associates developed an assessment for John Cleaver, which they called Self Discription. It began like the Activity Vector Analysis as an adjective checklist, but evolved into a 24 tetrad, forced-choice instrument. Presumably, the forced choice aspect of the instrument was introduced to minimize the influence of socially desirable responding. Factor analyses of the Self Discription produced two factors that closely approximated the underlying axes of Marston’s model, lending considerable empirical support not only to the structure of the model he proposed, but to Clarke’s earlier claim that a DiSC®-based instrument could be created.

1970 First DiSC assessment: Personal Profile System® (PPS)

In the 1970s, John Geier, a faculty member in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Health Sciences, used Self Discription to create the original Personal Profile System® (PPS). He formed a company called Performax (which eventually became Inscape Publishing and is now the Workplace Learning Solutions Group at Wiley) that was the first publisher of a DiSC assessment. Since the PPS used the same 24 tetrads and items that appeared in the original Self Discription, Geier’s main contribution was not so much in the area of instrument development, but in furthering the understanding of the 15 basic patterns discovered by Clarke. Geier collected pattern descriptions through clinical interviews with hundreds of people. By extracting behavioral information from those interviews, he provided richer descriptions of these 15 patterns that had come to be known as the Classical Profile Patterns.

1994 28-box Personal Profile System

A research effort was launched to improve the DiSC model instrument that had basically remained unchanged since 1959. New items were added, non-functioning items were removed, and the overall reliability of the instrument increased. The new PPS was named the Personal Profile System 2800 Series (PPS 2800), referring to the new number of tetrads (28). First published in 1994, this version of the PPS is still used today, although it has since been renamed DiSC Classic.

2000 Research into the circumplex representation of DiSC

In the early 2000s, researchers associated with Wiley’s Workplace Learning Solutions Group (called Inscape at the time) began experimenting with ways to represent DiSC model with a circumplex model instead of with a line graph model. Here, a person’s DiSC style was represented with a dot within the DiSC model map. The advantage of this representation was ease of interpretation and application. For instance, users could much more easily see the relationship among the four styles and could plot two people on the same circle. Researchers discovered that this circumplex approach to measuring and presenting DiSC shared substantial overlap with the Interpersonal Circumplex theory in academic psychological research. Drawing on this research and theory, the Everything DiSC® series of reports was developed as it exists today.

2007 Everything DiSC DiSC® Sales

The first Everything DiSC application to be launched was Everything DiSC Sales. Instead of a line graph or bar graph, this profile presented the participant’s DiSC style with the circumplex DiSC map. Unlike the PPS, this profile focused on helping the learner understand the relevance of his or her DiSC style to a particular role within the organization. This report contains three broad sections:

  • Understanding Your DiSC Sales Style
  • Understanding Customer Buying Styles
  • Adapting Your Sales Style to Your Customer’s Buying Style
2008 Everything DiSC Management

The second Everything DiSC application to be launched was Everything DiSC Management. This profile is designed to help managers understand their own DiSC styles as well as the styles of the people they manage. Further, it helps managers bridge the gaps when there are style differences. The report contains five broad sections:

  • Your DiSC Management Style
  • Directing and Delegating
  • Motivation
  • Developing Others
  • Working with Your Manager
2009 Everything DiSC Workplace® and Everything DiSC Comparison Report

The third Everything DiSC application to be launched was Everything DiSC Workplace. This profile is designed for use by a wide range of participants, regardless of their role in the organization. The report contains three broad sections:

  • Discover Your DiSC Style
  • Understanding Other Styles
  • Building More Effective Relationships

At the same time, Everything DiSC Comparison Reports were launched. These reports allowed for two people to compare themselves on not only their DiSC style, but also on a series of basic personality traits, such as careful vs. daring or skeptical vs. accepting.

2010 Everything DiSC 363® for Leaders

Drawing on three years of research, the Everything DiSC 363 for Leaders profile was launched. This is a 360 assessment that uses the DiSC model as a backdrop. In the assessment, observers are asked to evaluate a leader on 24 behaviors, such as finding opportunities or showing diplomacy.

2011 Everything DiSC Work of Leaders

The Everything DiSC Work of Leaders profile was launched. Based on extensive research, this report splits the work of leaders into three categories: Vision, Alignment, and Execution. Using self-ratings of 18 different traits, participants are taught why some leadership behaviors come naturally to them and others require more deliberate effort.

2012 Adaptive testing implemented

Adaptive testing allows an assessment to change depending on a respondent’s previous answers. This is useful in cases where the results of a standard assessment are inconclusive. In these instances, the Everything DiSC assessment will ask the respondent additional questions to reduce ambiguity in their results. Adaptive testing is the latest improvement to increase the accuracy of the Everything DiSC assessment and make the feedback more personalized and relevant for users.

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