William Moulton Marston: Creator of Super Woman, Theorist of D.I.S.C.

Adam Stamm

William Moulton Marston

William Moulton Marston was an inventor, psychologist, and writer. To be successful in one of these three areas would be an accomplishment for most people. Unlike most people, Marston was accomplished in all three.

Marston’s greatest accomplishments are writing/creating the Wonder Woman comics, inventing the lie detector, and theorizing D.I.S.C. While these three areas seem unrelated, they are all connected by a person who was fascinated with people.

With Wonder Woman, we find a man who saw that women could be equally dominant as men. The lie detector test found correlations between what a person says they know and the body’s physical response to withholding information and lying. Marston’s DISC theory offered an easy way to identify someone’s personality by looking at their behavioral preferences. 

Marston and Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman’s story turned 75 in 2016, and it continues to cut through the male dominated norms as it did when it was first published in 1941. At the time, Wonder Woman was featured fighting the Axis Powers and other colorful villains. 

Wonder Woman is honored with a specific day to celebrate her story (June 3rd). The recent movie, Professor Marston and Wonder Woman captured most of Marston’s life and accomplishments, but seemed to focus more on a rumored polyamorous relationship Marston and his wife had with Olive Byrne.

Both the context of the story and the focus on an strong female character is monumental given that women were only allowed to vote 20 years prior. 

When asked about the creation of Wonder Woman, Marston was recorded as saying,

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Marston and the Lie Detector (Polygraph)

Marston is credited with helping develop an early version of the polygraph. However, Elizabeth Holloway, his future wife, should be the one earning the credit for it’s inception.

Elizabeth felt that when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure rose. This led her and her husband to create a systolic blood pressure measurement to be used specifically in detecting deception.

It’s in this picture, you can see her helping test the polygraph machine.

William Moulton Marston and his Lie Detector

The Emotions of Normal People and the Beginning of DISC

Published in 1928, the Emotions of Normal People describes people as having four ‘primary emotions’ and associated behaviors with those emotions. Today, we know these emotions of Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C).

If you are looking for something to fun read, unfortunately, you might want to avoid this book. The book is really written from a clinical point of view. As a Harvard-trained psychologist, Marston was approaching his theory as a clinician.

It’s important to note that Marston never created an assessment for his theory or really put his theory through a series of rigorous research. That would come nearly 3-decades later when John Cleaver would create the first DISC-based test in 1956.

Start using DISC!

Marston’s theory is now a validated assessment that is used by millions of people each year. Choose from one of our DISC Assessments below to get started.