Digging into DiSCĀ® History
November 25, 2008

The History Behind the DISCĀ® Model

DiSC History

The most recent iteration of the behavioral styles concept is DiSC but the theory currently underpinning DiSC dates back to 1928. That was the year that William Molton Marston wrote a book called The Emotions of Normal People. In his book, Dr. Marston proposed a system of psychology that used the acronym of DiSC for the first time.

Marston's idea was to prove brilliant but not many people actually remember that he was the father of the DiSC concept. One reason is that Marston was a Harvard trained psychologist working at Columbia University. He may have proposed the DiSC concept but, because it came out of academia, no one owned it.

Another reason Marston's groundbreaking work in the area of human psychology is often neglected is because there was someone else working in the same field, at the same time Marston was.

Carl Jung developed, wrote about and created his theory about archetypes - early models of personality description. His research, which formed the basis for the Myers Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI), was published around the same time that Marston developed and wrote about DiSC. Jung was a well-known Swiss psychiatrist with much higher visibility than Marston but both made significant contributions to the area of study that would become known as psychometric research and the use of psychometrics relative to personality.

Jungian archetypes and Marston's DiSC theory are the foundation on which just about every four quadrant model on the market today are based on, many of which don't even carry the DiSC name.

Jung and Marston may be prominent scholars whose names are associated with DiSC theory but, surprisingly, they were not the first to develop this idea. In fact, the ideas behind four quadrant behavioral models had been around for centuries when these 20th century scholars did their groundbreaking work.

The First Physicians Are Fathers of DiSC theory

It may be hard to believe but the original four quadrant behavioral model was first postulated in 3 BC, in Greece by the so-called "father of medicine," Hippocrates.

Although Hippocrates applied most of his theory about the Four Temperaments to medicine, he also applied what he learned to peoples' behaviors making this one of the oldest personality profiling systems.

It was another Greek physician, Claudius Galenus of Pergamum (AD 131-201), better known as Galen, who interpreted Hippocrates' earlier ideas. Galen was chief physician to the Roman gladiators and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, among others.

Changing the name from Four Temperaments to Four Humours, Galen's descriptions were still focused on human biology but also included some behavioral traits. Although the names are different, the characteristics Galen called out thousands of years ago are very much like those used in DiSC programs.

Sanguine - the personality of an individual with the temperament of blood, the season of spring (wet and hot), and the classical element of air. A person who is sanguine is generally light hearted, fun loving, a people person, loves to entertain, spontaneous and confident. However they can be arrogant, cocky, indulgent and impulsive, possibly acting on whims in an unpredictable fashion. (Influence)

Choleric corresponds to the fluid of yellow bile, the season of summer (dry and hot), and the element of fire. A person who is choleric is a doer and a leader. They have a lot of ambition, energy, and passion, and try to instill it in others. They can be mean spirited, angry and suspicious and can also dominate people of other temperaments or behavioral styles. (Dominance)

Melancholic is the personality of an individual characterized by black bile. The temperament is associated with the season of fall (dry and cold) and the element earth. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist, being very particular about what they want and how they want it in some cases. Often kind and considerate, melancholics can be highly become overly pre-occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world, thus becoming depressed. (Conscientious)

Phlegmatic - this person is calm and unemotional. Phlegmatic means "pertaining to phlegm", corresponds to the season of winter (wet and cold), and connotes the element of water. Phlegmatics are consistent, relaxed, rational, curious, and observant, making them good administrators. Their shy personality can often make them lazy and resistant to change. (Steadiness)

Each of Galen's words describing the four humours have altered with the passing of nearly two thousand years but the theory behind these concepts lives on in the work of some of the greatest scientists and behaviorists in the world from David Keirsey's interpretation to British psychologist Hans Jurgen Eysenck personality inventory.

Unlike many training programs and instruments, where there are questions about validity, DiSC stands on solid ground of these researchers, academics and psychologists. When it comes to the concept of the four behavioral styles, you might say, it was validated by some of the most revered names in the history of the world.

This idea has truly stood the test of time. But it's long history and the large number or scholars, philosophers and researchers who have worked on this concept created a problem in the today's marketplace that was not easy to overcome. Just Google DiSC training and you will get more than 21 million results.

How did this simple concept of four behavioral styles, defined by Hippocrates and Galen, grow so large and confusing? To find out, we have to fast forward from ancient history to the 1970's.

This is the second in a series of four articles about the DiSC model, Everything DiSC Management, the history behind it all and how it applies. The first article is titled The Concept Behind DiSC - You do the Math. The third article is titled Putting DiSC Management to Work.

About the author:

Pat Muccigrosso is the former Director of Training & Development for the Business Services Group of ARAMARK and a guest author of Corexcel, specializing in DiSC-based learning assessments, online continuing education and workplace training. For more information about Corexcel and the training materials they offer, visit www.corexcel.com.

"DiSC" and "Everything DiSC" are registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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