The History and Development of DISC

Did you know that the current day DISC Personality System could in many ways be traced back to ancient history? Throughout time, philosophers have tried to identify what makes people act the way that they do and it always comes back to 4 separate quadrants, which have evolved throughout time. Let’s begin our DISC history with Ancient Greece.

Empedocles (444 BC) – The Four Elements

In ancient Greek, pre-Socratic philosophy, behavior was attributed to four external, environmental elements. Empedocles called these the four “roots” or elements.


Hippocrates (370 BC) and Galen (190 AD) – The Four Humors

Known as the Four Temperaments from Hippocrates, and The Four Humors from Galen, these great medical minds believed that a balance of 4 bodily fluids was necessary to maintain health.

What were previously external elements became bodily fluids (or humors), which affected our behaviors, but this time from internal influences. Phlegm/Phlegmatic was associated with the element water, representing calmness. Blood/Sanguine was associated with the element air, representing cheerfulness. Yellow Bile/choleric was associated with the element fire, representing enthusiasm. Black bile/Melancholic was associated with the element earth, representing being somber. One’s dominant humor was believed to have determined his or her personality type.

PHLEGMATIC (Phlegm/Calm) SANGUINE (Blood/Cheerful)
CHOLERIC (Yellow Bile/Enthusiastic) MELANCHOLIC (Black Bile/Somber)

Carl Gustav Jung and the Development of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI):

From ancient elements and humors, we move forward in time to Carl Gustav Jung and the development of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Still attributing personality to internal influences, Jung determined that our behavior is based on the way we think and process. He contributed much to the understanding of “type” behaviors, believing that individuals had a “Psychological Type” and that people vary by how they perceive things and make decisions. In 1921, Jung published the book, Psychological Types, identifying 4 ways in which we experience the world: Sensation, Intuition, Feeling and Thinking.

Sensation Intuition
Feeling Thinking

Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, worked with Jung’s theories and published the first MBTI survey in 1962. The new evolution of Jung’s theories now had 4 dichotomies of personality, focusing on normal populations and naturally occurring differences:

Extraversion (E) Vs Introversion (I)
Sensing (S) Vs Intuition (N)
Thinking (T) Vs Feeling (F)
Judging (J) Vs Perception (P)

William Moulton Marston PhD and the Development of the DISC Personality Test

DISC personality tests
William Moulton Marston graduated from doctoral studies at Harvard in the newly developing field of psychology. In his landmark book, Emotions of Normal People, published in 1928, Marston set out to examine observable “normal” behavior in a particular environment. He believed our personality styles are both natural, internal and innate, but also largely impacted by our particular environment at any given time. This combines the idea that we are impacted both internally AND externally, which affects our behaviors.

Marston showcased his extensive research and theory behind the DISC model in his book. He found that behavioral characteristics could be grouped together in 4 main divisions, called personality styles. People with similar styles tend to exhibit specific, observable behavioral characteristics common to that style. Marston named the 4 dimensions of behavior and created a means to identify the relative propensity of individuals to behave accordingly. The DISC acronym is represented by:

DISC Style Characteristics
D = Dominant Direct, Decisive, High ego strength, Problem solver, Risk taker, Self-starter
I = Influential Enthusiastic, Trusting, Optimistic, Persuasive, Talkative, Impulsive, Emotional
S = Steady Good listener, Team player, Possessive, Steady, Predictable, Understanding
C = Conscientious Accurate, Analytical, Conscientious, Fact-finder, Systematic, High standards

For the most part, there are no pure styles, but all people share these four styles in varying degrees of intensity represented by graphs with a mid-line. These composite styles are known as personality style blends, each with their own characteristics, preferences, fears, strengths and limitations.

In 1940, Walter Clark took Marston’s theories and developed the first DISC Personality Profile Report. Fast forward in DISC history to the present, and this system has become known as the universal language of behavior because of its simplicity and sincerity. The language is easily learned, understood and administered by widespread audiences. Since it has been established, DISC has consistently proven to be a reliable and valid instrument.

What’s your DISC personality style?