History of the DISC Model

History of the DISC Model

Where did DISC come from?

DISC is the language of human behavior. It describes how we act. Twenty-four hundred years ago, people began to notice differences in behavior, and that these differences seamed to follow a pattern. This pattern was influenced by several different thinkers. It developed into what we use today as the DISC Model of Human Behavior.

Empodocles – Four Roots (444 BC)
DISC Prehistory Air Water Fire EarthEmpodocles was the founder of the school of medicine in Sicily. He first traced everything on earth into four roots or elements: earth, air, fire, and water. He believed that these could be combined into an infinite number of substances.

Hippocrates – Four Temperaments and Body Fluids (400 BC)
Hippocrates observed people and classified their behavior and appearance into four groups according to the climate and terrain of their environment. Current research validates that Hippocrates was right in finding that environment can cause change in behavior. Our model shows this change in the two graphs.

Hippocrates then identified four temperaments and associated them with four bodily fluids:

Choleric bile
Sanguine blood
Phlegmatic mucous
Melancholy black bile


These terms are used today by some to describe similar types. They correlate generally as:

Choleric D
Sanguine I
Phlegmatic S
Melancholy C


Galen – Four Environmental Factors (130 AD – 200 AD)
Galen of Rome said that four body fluids affect behavior and temperament: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. He also stated that warm, cold, dry and moist as environmental factors that act upon the body and causes the body to act.

Four Psychological Functions Theorists

C.G. June ( 1921)
Introvert and Extrovert Types

In psychological types, C.G. Jung described four types according to four psychological functions: thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. This is a basis for the Meyer-Briggs instrument. These four types were divided into two divisions according to libido or energy, as extroverted type of introverted type, and Jung believed that these types were categories above the other four functions. His introvert and extrovert types became a general basis for classifying human behavior.

William Moulton Marston (1893-1947)
Developer of DISC

DISC QuadAs a 1921 Harvard graduate, William Moulton Marston is most well-known for his success in lie detection. His book, The Lie Detector, was published in 1938. He is also known under the pen name Charles Moulton as the creator of Wonder Woman. In 1928, he published The Emotions of Normal People, which describes the basis of the theory we use today. He developed a model which viewed behavior as active or passive and the environment as antagonistic or favorable. He took these two components and put them on two axis lines. By placing them at right angles, he created the four-quadrant model base of DISC.

Walter Clarke: Activity Vector Analysis (1950s)
DISC used for a Psychological Device

Walter Clarke was the first to build a psychological device based on Marston’s theory. His Activity Vector Analysis was an adjective check-list form. Some of Clarke’s original associates left his company, refining and developing their own checklists.

Dr. Russell J. Watson: Face Validity (1980s)
Validation Study

A study by Dr. Russell J. Watson, Wheaton College, showed that the face validity of each Style was as follows:

High D 91%
High I 94%
High S 85%
High C 82%


DISC Today

There are at least fifty companies who use a descriptive behavioral device based on the Marston theory. DISC is public domain material, but individual companies have copyrighted the material that they have developed. Marston-based instruments like the Style Analysis have been used by over 30 million people worldwide. They have earned the respect of many professionals for accuracy and validity.

What is DISC?

We understand from the history of DISC that research substantiates that behavior traits or characteristics can be grouped into four quadrants or types. Each individual is a blend of all four types, which makes up his or her personality style. William Moulton Marston said that all people exhibit all four behavioral factors in varying degrees of intensity, and people which similar personality styles will exhibit similar behavior under similar circumstances.

  • DISC is a special language, because it is easily observable. Watching people proves its validity. Behavior is easy to observe and study.
  • DISC is a special language, because, unlike English, it is a silent language. It is expressed in behavior and measured in words.
  • DISC is a special language, because it is universal. DISC has been studies in many cultures, and has been shown to be universal in its application.
  • DISC is a special language, because it is values neutral. It measures behavior but does not judge the value of that behavior.
  • DISC describes your:
    • Dominance
      • How your respond to problems and challenges
      • Do you like to blaze the trail or work in a group?
    • Inspiring / Influence
      • How you inspire others to your viewpoint
      • Do you talk or listen?
    • Supportiveness
      • How you respond to the predictability of the environment
      • Do you prefer sameness or like change?
    • Cautiousness
      • How you respond to rules or procedures set by others
      • Do you like everyone, including yourself, to follow the rules or do you prefer to do it my way?

What DISC is Not

  • DISC is not a measure of a person’s intelligence. Any person can have high or low intelligence, regardless of personality style.
  • DISC is not a measure of a person’s values and beliefs. DISC describes what a person does but not why. It does not judge right or wrong.
  • DISC is not a measure of education, skills or experience. DISC behavior traits describe how a person will behave, but does not reflect the options open to him or her because of acquired skills, education and experience.

Remember, DISC measures behavior in words. It is objective and descriptive, rather than subjective and judgmental.