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DISC is a behavior assessment tool based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston, which centers on four different behavioral traits: dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. This theory was then developed into a behavioral assessment tool by industrial psychologist Walter Vernon Clarke.
Marston was a lawyer and a psychologist; he also contributed to the first polygraph test, authored self-help books and created the character Wonder Woman. His major contribution to psychology came when he generated the DISC characteristics of emotions and behavior of normal people (at the time, 'normal' had the meaning of 'typical' rather than an antonym for 'abnormal'). Marston, after conducting research on human emotions, published his findings in his 1928 book called Emotions of Normal People in which he explained that people illustrate their emotions using four behavior types: Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). Also, he argued that these behavioral types came from people's sense of self and their interaction with the environment. He included two dimensions that influenced people's emotional behavior. The first dimension is whether a person views his environment as favorable or unfavorable. The second dimension is whether a person perceives himself as having control or lack of control over his environment. His work was the foundation of the DISC assessment that has been used by more than 50 million people since it was first introduced in 1972.
Although Marston contributed to the creation of the DISC assessment, he did not create it. In 1956, Walter Clarke, an industrial psychologist, constructed the DISC assessment using Marston's theory of the DISC model. He did this by publishing the Activity Vector Analysis, a checklist of adjectives on which he asked people to indicate descriptions that were accurate about themselves. This assessment was intended for use in businesses needing assistance in choosing qualified employees.
About 10 years later, Walter Clarke Associates developed a new version of this instrument. It was called Self Description. Instead of using a checklist, this test forced respondents to make a choice between two or more terms. Factor analysis of this assessment added to the support of a DISC-based instrument. Self Description was used by John Geier to create the original Personal Profile System in the 1970s. Through hundreds of clinical interviews, he furthered the understanding of the 15 basic patterns discovered by Clarke.
Since then, a number of publishers have updated and/or generated their own versions of the DISC assessment. In 1984, Jack Morrison's doctoral dissertation, A Correlation Study of the Personal Profile System with the Sixteen Personality Factors Questionnaire concluded that the DISC has construct validity with significant correlations compared to the 16 PF strongly suggesting that it has scientific validity as a psychometric instrument.
Some companies use the DISC assessment as a way to screen potential employees, with the thought that a certain personality type would be better or worse in certain jobs or positions. The DISC assessment is mostly a tool to get to know oneself, others and behavior in interpersonal situations better.
The best use of DISC is to learn more about oneself, others and how to deal with situations where interpersonal relationships are involved. Some more specific versions of the DISC assessment will help understand how one person would likely react in a specific team, management or leadership situation, given her or his DISC style.
The assessment has been used to determine one's leadership skills. There are different leadership methods and styles that coincide with each personality type, which could help leaders be more effective. DISC has also been used to help determine a course of action when dealing with problems as a leadership team—that is, taking the various aspects of each type into account when solving problems or assigning jobs.
In very early versions there were Underperform and Overperform patterns which identified when the person being tested had selected all of the 'bad' or 'good' options respectively. These two patterns were removed in the early 1990s. The DISC assessment tool progressed to identify 15 patterns (behavioral styles). In the most recent advanced versions of DISC, many more patterns (behavioral styles) are identified.
- Marston, William M. (1928). Emotions of Normal People. K. Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd. p. 405.
- Beamish, G. (2005). How chief executives learn and what behavior factors distinguish them from other people. Industrial and Commercial Training, 37(3), 138–144.
- Duck, J. (2006). "Making the connection: Improving virtual team performance through behavioral assessment profiling and behavioral cues". Developments in Business Simulation and Experiential Learning, 33, 358–9. Retrieved from http://sbaweb.wayne.edu/~absel/bkl/.\vol33\33cb.pdf