William Marston is one of the most notable names in polygraph science. As a Harvard Ph.D. in psychology, Marston formed the foundation of American polygraph technology after inspiring John A. Larson to develop the world’s first multi-functional lie detector device.

Marston had keen interests in several areas, including psychology, polygraphy, and even comic book writing. He’s the creative mind behind the invention of the Wonder Woman character in DC comics and an inductee into the Comic Book Hall of Fame.

Marston had a passion for psychology and clearly loved figuring out what made people tick. He first proposed the DiSC model of psychological behavior in his book, “Emotions of Normal People,” published in 1928. He aimed to create a work focusing on directly observable and measurable psychological phenomena through objective means.

Marston’s research theorized four categories of emotional expressions stemming from our perception of ourselves developed by our environment. These four categories are as follows.

  1. Dominance (D).
  2. Inducement (I).
  3. Submission (S).
  4. Compliance (C).

His model incorporated these four emotional expressions in a dual-axis, dual-dimensional space. However, despite Marston being a keen truth-seeker, leading to his development of the systolic blood pressure test device, he didn’t go forward with creating an instrument to measure the parameters of the DiSC model.

Thus, our contemporary view and understanding of DiSC theory retain the core principles devised by Marston. However, its modern presentation incorporates many changes and additions advanced by psychological theory and measurement.


DiSC Instrumentation – A Brief History

DiSC measurement practices began in the 1940s, over a decade after Marston introduced them to the world. Walter V. Clarke, an industrial psychologist, built the Activity Vector Analysis, a test for personnel selection.

After using his instrument to collect and analyze data, he realized the aggressive, stable, sociable, and avoidant factors presented were similar to DiSC. The psychologist concluded this data is best unpacked by the human behavior model created by Marston.

As a result of this discovery, a member of Walter Clarke Associates defined the “Self-Description” assessment analyzing the two factors approximating the underlying axes of the Marston DiSC model. This revelation gave credence to Clarke’s claim that it was possible to create a DiSC-based instrument.

The discovery led to the development of several DiSC-based behavioral or personality assessments created on the foundation of Marston’s model.


The DiSC Methodology

The DiSC test classifies four areas of a candidate’s personality. It analyzes the candidate’s word association preferences in the following categories.

  • Dominance – Relating to the candidate’s power, control, and assertiveness.
  • Influence – Relating to communications and social situations.
  • Steadiness – Relating to persistence, patience, and thoughtfulness.
  • Compliance (or caution or conscientiousness) – Relating to organization and structure.

We group these four parameters of DiSC theory in a grid format, with D and i at the top of the matrix, representing the extroverted aspects of the candidate’s personality, and C and S in the lower quadrants, representing their introverted aspects.

D and C share the left side of the matrix, representing their task-focused characteristics, and i and S share the right side of the grid to represent their social aspects. Let’s unpack each of the quadrants in detail.



People scoring highly in the D category proactively tackle challenges in their lives. People with a low D score will research more about the problem before attempting to resolve it.

Individuals with high D scores are demanding, egocentric, forceful, driven, strong-willed, determined, aggressive, ambitious, and pioneering.

Individuals with Low D scores are low-key, conservative, calculating, cooperative, cautious, undemanding, agreeable, peaceful, mild, and modest.



Individuals with a high i score will influence others through activity and conversation and are high-emotion people. They’re magnetic, convincing, enthusiastic, political, warm, persuasive, trusting, demonstrative, and optimistic.

Individuals with a low i score influence others by presenting facts and data. They are not emotional but factual, reflective, calculating, logical, skeptical, suspicious, critical, and pessimistic.


Steadiness (Originally “Submission” in Marston’s work)

Individuals with high S scores prefer security and a steady pace and are adverse to change. A low S score refers to people who enjoy variety and change in their lives. High S people are patient, relaxed, calm, predictable, possessive, stable, deliberate, consistent, and unemotional.

Individuals with low S scores are demonstrative, restless, eager, impatient, or impulsive.


Conscientious (Originally “Compliance” in Marston’s work)

Individuals with a high C score prefer structure, rules, and regulations. They prefer producing high-quality work the first time they present it rather than returning to the drawing board for redevelopment.

Individuals with a high C score are cautious, careful, neat, exacting, diplomatic, systematic, tactful, and accurate.

Individuals with low C scores prefer challenging rules and are independent. They’re stubborn, self-willed, chaotic, opinionated, careless, and arbitrary.


One of the misinterpretations of DiSC profiles is that an individual will directly fall into one of the four categories. However, this is not the case. Dr. John Geier’s work in the 1970s shows the delineation of the distinct differences in a person’s character type within the four categories using his “Classical Pattern” definitions.

The study shows distinct differences between individuals within each of the four categories. For example, not all S’s behave similarly.


Four Decades of Development

The first assessment built on Marston’s behavioral model saw huge success, with many organizations refining it over the coming decades into real-world applications. We saw huge improvements in the theory’s assessment, reporting, and facilitation in the wake of Marston’s death in 1947.

The advancement of the theory from the 1970s through the 1990s saw DiSC profiles focusing primarily on an individual’s personal insight. John Geier, from the University of Minnesota’s Department of Health Sciences, formed the “Performax” company in the 1970s, becoming the first publisher of DiSC assessments.

The DiSC instrument, the “Personal Profile System 2800 Series” (PPS 2800), underwent a research effort in 1994 to improve its workings. Named “DiSC Classic,” this version of PPS is still in use today.


The Evolution of DiSC to Workplace Requirements

DiSC underwent several changes to evolve workplace requirements for companies and organizations in the private and public sectors. More recently, Everything DiSC profiles included the development of Productive Conflict and Agile EQ metrics to assess candidates’ soft skills.

Since many teams network across disciplines and departments, they no longer have a conventional hierarchical structure. However, management expects teams to innovate, which is challenging without the element of productive conflict in creative processes and decision-making.

Everything DiSC profiles enable the creation of responsive and self-aware teams in an increasingly agile workforce environment. The efforts to continue to develop the DiSC model into a reliable and valid instrument, we saw the introduction of a computerized testing format in 2013.

This adaptive testing model provides room for change in assessments based on previous answers by the respondent. It’s useful in scenarios involving inconclusive results in standard assessments. The Everything DiSC assessment asks the candidate additional questions to reduce ambiguity in test results.

The 2000s saw the introduction of an innovative method to present the candidate’s style by introducing a dot or circumplex representation instead of the traditional graph model. The new structure produced intuitive results that were relevant to assessors.

The “DiSC Circle” provides easier methods of presenting relationships between two people or in a team using a visual, straightforward manner.


Understanding the Creative Pattern in DiSC Theory

The “Creative Pattern” introduces the concept of “emotional Intelligence” or “EQ” into DiSC theory. Individuals with the Creative Pattern being dominant in their profile have the following personality characteristics.

  • Goals – Dominance, motivated by accomplishments.
  • Emotions – Restrains their expression while accepting aggression.
  • Judges others by their progressive ideas towards accomplishing tasks and their personal standards.
  • Influences others through their ability to pace the development of innovative approaches and systems.
  • They offer value to an organization through their initiative.
  • They have an overpowering, blunt, or condescending attitude.
  • They become bored with routine work and act independently under pressure.
  • They fear the failure of being unable to achieve their standards of excellence or a lack of influence.
  • They’re more effective when placed in cooperative teams with tactful communication.

Individuals displaying the creative pattern show opposing forces in their behavior. They counterbalance their need for tangible results with their aggression and drive for perfection with sensitivity and compassion.

While these individuals react and think fast, they experience restraint of their need to explore options in their decision-making process. People displaying the Creative Pattern show foresight in project management and have excellent planning abilities.

They make sound changes but lack the ability to pay attention to their interpersonal relationships. Creative individuals need the freedom to explore their options and the authority to examine and refine their findings. They make quick decisions but are cautious with those that have larger consequences.

Creative people aren’t usually concerned with their social poise, so they are often blunt, cool, or aloof in their behavior.


The Introduction of Behavioral EQ and Emotional Intelligence to DiSC Theory

The “Behavioral EQ” interpersonal effectiveness model comprises behavioral and emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ refers to how we understand and identify our emotions and those of others. Behavioral intelligence is more observable, referring to our personal relationships and behavior management.

The Behavioral EQ model comprises 15 skills that are most meaningful and predictive of a candidate’s performance, including empathy, emotional awareness, relationship building, and stress management abilities.

With the DiSC model, no pattern is more important than the other or indicates someone is “better” than the other. People in any pattern can be effective. However, some patterns may naturally fit or thrive in specific occupations or roles.

Behavioral EQ is critically important in leadership outcomes, increased performance, sales, and customer service.


How Behavioral EQ Complements DiSC Personalities

Behavioral EQ enhances interpersonal effectiveness beyond what DiSC provides. The Behavioral EQ assessment has a multi-rater structure. Candidates complete their character evaluations and nominate other raters to conduct an assessment of them.

In the report, candidates receive side-by-side comparisons of their self-ratings and those of others rating them. It’s common for candidates or employees to see discrepancies between their self-ratings and those of others regarding their assessment, providing insight to the candidate on their perceived performance.

Several studies show self-perceptions are usually systematically flawed and moderately accurate. Typically, candidates or employees will overrate their abilities, skills, and character. For instance, most business leaders assume their company will do better than others in their category. Over 90% of college professors say they produce above-average work.

Moreover, it turns out that the candidate’s acquaintances are more accurate in their performance assessments of others than the candidates themselves. A study of surgical residents’ self-assessments didn’t significantly predict performance on board exams, but peer and supervisor ratings did.

So, multi-rater feedback is important in terms of assessing an accurate view of performance and drawing candidates’ and employees’ attention to the things they overlook in their character and performance.

Essentially, the DiSC model offers candidates and employees improved self-awareness of their behavioral preferences. Behavioral EQ provides a reality check by showing co-worker perceptions providing a powerful combination when included together in the same assessment.

Another way in which Behavioral EQ complements DiSC theory is by teaching candidates and employees how to manage decision-making, thinking, and behavior to optimize their interpersonal efficacy.

Using Behavioral EQ training, employees gain access to strategies based on neuroscience and psychology research they can use to increase efficacy in all skill areas. For instance, practicing mindfulness improves emotional awareness and stress management skills.

A mindful state means focusing awareness and attention on the present. Meditation helps achieve this state, as does disconnect from tech and scheduling your day.

Research into the application of mindfulness shows improvements in stress management and better energy levels. It also assists with a better understanding of emotional states, helping the practitioner become less reactive to environmental stimuli.


In Closing – DiSC Theory in Polygraph Exams

Many companies and organizations in the public and private sectors use DiSC models alongside polygraph exams in EPPA-approved pre-employment screening processes. While the polygraph is an excellent tool for determining a candidate’s trustworthiness, the DiSC model gives further insight into their personality and character.

By using both in screening processes, companies and organizations can understand the candidate’s motives, aspirations, and capabilities. While both are excellent individual tests, combining them in such a manner creates a dual metric for improved character assessments.


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