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:

Recommended Resources:

Uncover your strengths and weaknesses with our complimentary assessment. Boost your effectiveness at work and with your team.

Free Resource Library: Access our extensive collection of valuable resources for instant support in your personal and professional growth.

Explore Our Course Library:

Enhance your leadership skills with our diverse selection of courses. Take your abilities to the next level and become a more effective leader and team player.


Our Clients Love the Professional Leadership Institute

Your team will, too! Check out some reviews from our students.
The PLI program was invaluable to our network.
The range of topics delivered, the open dialogue, experience, and examples that PLI brought to each session were outstanding and provided a path for our Franchisees and Managers to look at leadership, coaching, and connecting with their teams in a new light. Many have implemented these strategies in their bakeries and have seen immediate results.
Michelle C.
COBS Bread
Highly recommend to help your team move forward
We have locations around BC and Alberta, so getting people on the same page can be very difficult... Until now. Our entire management team and location managers take the same great courses and then meet monthly online with our coach to apply it to our situation. People are engaged, the courses are excellent, we love our coach, and we are all learning together!
Jason Fawcett
President, Kelson Group
The result has been a transformation of our culture. 
We decided to implement PLI's strategies across the country in over 150 locations and over 3500 employees.  The result has been a transformation of our culture.  People's lives have been positively impacted - professionally and personally.  Morale is high and sales and profits are up as a result.
Daryl Verbeek
Daryl Verbeek
We’ve learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all
The roadmap laid out set our business up to quintuple in sales.  We've learned how to fix ongoing personnel issues once and for all, attract top talent, and spend our time focused on results, not internal staffing problems.  I highly recommend PLI to you - it's worked for us!
John DeJong
Satisfied Client
I had no idea that running a business could be this fun!
In less than 18 months of working with Trevor, he has transformed my business from being average to exceptional, where mediocrity is not acceptable, where being great is standard.  Working with PLI has allowed me to realize my dream of not simply owning a job, but owning a business.
Justin Bontkes
Principal, Caliber Projects
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year
Our culture has taken major steps forward this year with Trevor’s help.  He is funny, relatable, and his tools are very very practical and have helped us focus and upgrade our teams throughout our retail network. Trevor recently spoke to an employee group, and one person remarked, “I could listen to Trevor all day.”   We would highly recommend Trevor.
Stan Pridham
Founder, KMS Tools
The results have been remarkable
At first, we resisted, “This just won’t work with a law firm.” But we persisted and the results have been remarkable: our client base and profits have steadily improved, and staff engagement and morale is the healthiest its ever been.
Doug Lester
Partner, RDM Lawyers
Helped our fast-growing business become what it is today
I've experienced PLI's approach first hand and it's been crucial to sustaining our growth.  I can't imagine a business that wouldn't benefit greatly from his help.
Brian Antenbring
Founder, TEEMA
Provided practical ways to make positive changes
Trevor was incredibly well-received by the entire organization. He was able to articulate people issues that many of our franchisees were experiencing and provided them with practical ways to make positive changes. We have implemented the Star Chart tool across the organization and see it as vital to building happy, effective teams.
Aaron Gillespie
President, COBS Bread
Scroll to Top

Start Learning Today

For Individuals

Unlock your potential and accelerate your career with sought-after management and leadership skills.


Transform Your Organization

For Teams

Book a consultation to discuss your challenges and discover how we can help you build a winning team.


Sign Up For Weekly Tips!

Get Weekly Coaching Tips Straight To Your Inbox Every Monday.