DISC's history as a behaviror test goes back to its development by William Marston in the 1920's. There are some core ideas behind the DISC profiler, though, that reach back much further: indeed, certain principles can be traced back as far as ancient Greece. Here we take a brief journey through the history of ideas that led to the modern DISC personality assessment technique.

Hippocrates (370 BC) 

SANGUINE (Blood/Cheerful)

CHOLERIC (Yellow Bile/Enthusiastic)

PHLEGMATIC (Phlegm/Calm)

MELANCHOLIC (Black Bile/Somber)

To the ancient Greeks, a person's general style of behaviour was an integral part of their general health. They believed that the body contained four fundamental liquids (called humours) based on the four elements of fire, air, water and earth. When one of these humours became dominant over the others, it was thought to effect the person's mood and general approach.

The four humours, blood, yellow bile, phlegm and black bile, were each believed to be responsible for a different type of behaviour. An excess of blood made a person sanguine, yellow bile resulted in a choleric nature, phlegm, naturally, produced a phlegmatic outlook, and black bile was associated with melancholia.

These theories, first set down in a systematic way by Hippocrates, remained in use until the middle ages. We now know, of course, that they have no basis in medical fact, but what the Greeks had almost incidentally achieved was the first systematic method of describing individual types of people. So successful was their approach that, even today, the words 'humour' (meaning 'mood'), 'sanguine', 'phlegmatic' and 'melancholic' are still in common use.

Thankfully, modern profiling does not rely on measuring the amount of yellow bile in a person to determine their style, but the ideas behind it can, indirectly, be traced back to Hippocrates' theories.

Empedocles (444 BC)

FIRE                                         WATER

 AIR                                          EARTH

The Many Trades of Empedocles

Empedocles is said to have been born in the Greek city of Acragas (also known in Latin as ‘Agrigentum’ and in Italian as ‘Agrigento’), which is located on the southern coast of Sicily, around 490 BC. Empedocles is believed to have come from a wealthy family, and was more than just a philosopher. In the words of a modern scholar:

“Empedocles sparkles like a diamond among the Pre-Socratics – many-faceted and appearing different from different directions. A poet and a politician, a physician and a philosopher, a scientist and a seer, a showman and a charlatan…”

The Four Roots Theory of Empedocles

As a philosopher, Empedocles is best known for his theory that the world is composed of four elements or, more precisely, ‘roots’ – fire, air, earth, and water. In one of Empedocles’ fragments, it is written thus: “Hear first the four roots of all things: shining Zeus (commonly identified as fire) and life-bringing Hera (commonly identified as air) and Aidoneus (commonly identified as earth) and Nestis (commonly identified as water).” This is perhaps the greatest contribution of Empedocles, as it became the standard dogma for much of the following two millennia. 

Sensation and Intuition

Feeling and Thinking

Carl Gustav Jung

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.

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

Development of the DISC Personality Test

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: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientious.