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

William Moulton Marston was an inventor, psychologist, and writer. To be successful at 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 from writing Wonder Woman, 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 we said and our uncontrolled physical reactions. Marston’s DiSC Theory allows us to understand ourselves and those around us. We can identify behavior based on natural 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. Marston’s granddaughter, Christie Marston, criticized the film, saying the idea that Elizabeth and Olive Byrne were lovers was purely fictional.

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)

While Marston is credited with helping develop an early version of the polygraph, his wife, Elizabeth who should be the one earning the credit for it’s inception. According to Marston’s son, Elizabeth felt that when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure rose. It’s in this picture, you can see her helping test the polygraph machine.

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.