Origins of the DISC Personalities Test

The origins of the DISC Personalities test goes back a long way.  Although the DISC Personalities test itself is relatively new (90ish years old), its roots go back a very long way indeed.

Here’s a quick summary of where the DISC Personalities test comes from:

Ancient Theatre

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, humanity has been fascinated by the concept of how human personality works.

The word ‘personality’ comes from the Latin word ‘persona’ which refers to the masks worn by stage actors in ancient Greek theatre.

The idea is that you know what each character is about.  When the happy mask comes on stage, you know this represents the protagonist of the story.  When the angry mask comes on, the villain is on stage and so forth.

People then and now like to know that personality is predictable.  That people can be counted on to behave in certain ways.

The Greeks

Empedocles (5th Century BC) believed that personality came from external factors: fire, air, earth and water.  He knew something was at work causing people to behave in predictable ways.  This was the first stab at figuring out what that something is.

Hippocrates (4th Century BC) was a medical man (think the Hippocratic oath) who believed that these personality factors came from four fluids within our bodies.

They were all on to something, and tried to figure out what made human personality.

Rome and Galen

Springing forward 600 years, the physician Galen (2nd Century AD) came up with the terms choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, and sanguine to describe the four dimensions of human personality.

All of these ancients were trying to put words to the same things.  They were trying to answer the question, “What makes people behave the way they do?”

William Marston

Marston was an interesting guy.  He was a PhD (Harvard) in psychology, a screenwriter, a self-help writer, the creator of Wonder Woman, (!) and the inventor of the first lie detector test.  He was also an early contributor to the DISC personality tool.

In 1928 he published “Emotions of Normal People.”  He discussed many concepts in the book unrelated to personality.  But he also came up with the basic DISC formula, updating Galen’s ideas about personality.   His DISC categories were:

  • Dominance
  • Inducement
  • Submission
  • Compliance

Although Marston contributed to the DISC theory, he did not create it.  That would be left to another psychologist in the future.

Walter Clark

Clark was an industrial psychologist.  Since complex work environments were exploding in the 1950’s, Clark came up with a self-assessment to help employers choose qualified employees.   His DISC categories in 1956 were:

  • Dominant
  • Influential
  • Submissive
  • Compliant

Clark is really the father of the DISC assessment as we know it today.


There are literally hundreds of tools you can use to find out your personality type.  They are of varying quality!  But most point to the same four quadrants pointed out by Empedocles over 2500 years ago.

If you want to try the DISC Personalities test, you can do that here.  It takes about 10 minutes to complete.

People have always been interested in human behavior, and curious to know what makes other tick.

Today there are many forms of the DISC Personalities test, used by various companies around the world.

It has been administered millions of times in team settings.

It is used by universities, government agencies, fortune 500 companies, and personal coaches (like Tony Robbins).

The DISC helps people understand their own strengths and weaknesses, aids in communicating with others, and assists in finding the best job fit for employees.

In summary:

The DISC personality tool is a really valuable self-assessment that helps you communicate better with others, and helps you understand yourself too.  But most people don’t know the origins of the DISC personalities test.  Here’s a quick recap of its history:

  1. Ancient theatre
  2. The Greeks
  3. Rome and Galen
  4. William Marsden
  5. Walter Clark
  6. Today

Man in Library

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here:


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