William Moulton Marston, Founder of DISC


William Moulton Marston created the foundational theories behind DISC behavioral analysis. But that’s only part of the story. 

He lived from 1893 to 1947. Despite the fact that he passed away over 60 years ago, he remains the driving force behind some of the most important scientific, academic, and literary achievements of the 20th century.

To say that Marston was a man of many talents would be an understatement. During the course of his lifetime, Marston found success in a great many different areas of study, creating influential and critically-acclaimed works as a psychologist, inventor, and author. He was also a lawyer, a philosopher, and a devoted advocate for women’s rights. To this day, Marston is known as a progressive thinker, always looking to push the boundaries of traditional ways of looking at science, art, and culture.

William Marston and DISC

Marston’s work with DISC was a product of his lifelong interest in the study of human emotions. Harvard educated with a PhD in Psychology, he published a book in 1928 called The Emotions of Normal People. In it, he outlined the core principles of DISC. The book was based on years of clinical experimentation and analysis, and included many of the DISC hallmarks still used today: the use of axes, theories on behavior being linked to environment, and behavioral patterns he referred to as Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). Three years later, Marston continued his work with DISC by publishing the book Integrative Psychology. In it, he discussed links between emotion, personality, motivation, learning, and recall—connections that have all become key components of modern DISC tests.

William Marston: Father of the Polygraph

Through the course of his studies, Marston noticed a link between emotion and blood pressure. This inspired Marston to create an early version of the modern polygraph machine, or what has commonly come to be known as the ‘lie detector.’ The process was simple, yet effective: Marston would take and record a subject’s blood pressure, and release the blood pressure cuff. He would then ask the subject a question, and record the subject’s blood pressure a second time to identify any changes. Marston referred to this as the “discontinuous method” of identifying deception. Marston received great acclaim for his invention, and was often brought in by law enforcement agencies to consult on high-profile cases. Read more on our blog, click here.

When aviator Charles Lindbergh’s son was kidnapped in the 1930’s, William Marston helped the family by using his polygraph machine to question potential suspects.

DC Comics and Wonder Woman
Marston was also a prolific writer. In addition to The Emotions of Normal People and Integrative Psychology, he also published a huge number of books and essays for scientific and popular audiences. As a newspaper columnist, he wrote about the burgeoning Men’s Rights Movement, and became well-known for writing a number of influential journal articles in support of the early movement towards women’s rights. A self-proclaimed feminist, Marston was an outspoken advocate for birth control, voting rights, and career advancement for women.

A great fan of classical Greek and Roman literature, Marston combined these stories along with his feminist belief system into the creation of an iconic female character designed to embody the strong modern woman that Marston championed: Wonder Woman. Although the early part of his life was devoted to the study of emotions and the publication of psychological studies, the last six years of his life were dedicated to writing for DC comics under the pen name Charles Mouton. Marston wrote the text for Wonder Woman comics since she first appeared in print in 1941, up through his death in 1947. As reinforcement of Wonder Woman’s iconic status in the field of comics, in 2006 Marston received the honor of being posthumously inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame.

Marston’s Lasting Influence

Marston’s professional career was interesting and varied. He was an independent thinker that marched to the beat of his own drummer. At a time in which most psychologists chose to focus on the more ‘flashy’ field of abnormal psychology, Marston instead was deeply interested in the way that everyday emotions are most commonly expressed. Without his research, writing, and ideas, the DISC personality assessment as we know it today wouldn’t exist.

“Realize what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold.”

–William Marston