What a wonder

Superheroes usually don’t have to apply for their positions, much less be interviewed for them. And their credentials are more likely to have come from a radioactive spider or the planet Krypton than a CV or employer’s reference.

But if Spiderman, Superman, Batman, the Incredible Hulk, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman et al did find themselves lining up for interviews, we shouldn’t put our money wouldn’t be on the man of steel or the caped crusader to impress the panel. Instead, we should be backing the bullet-proof bracelet-wearing Diana Prince from Paradise Island (aka Wonder Woman) to land the top job.

This isn’t only because of the statuesque superhero’s Amazonian training or her magic lasso, forged from the girdle of Aphrodite (although they are both handy – especially as the latter makes whoever it encircles tell the truth), but because the hand that created her was also responsible for coming up with one of the most popular behavioural tests still in use today.

William Moulton Marston, a Harvard graduate, lawyer and psychologist, created the heroine while working as an educational consultant for DC Comics in 1941. He wondered why no female superheroes existed – especially since in his opinion, women were not only more honest and reliable, but could work faster and more effectively.   

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our female archetype lacks force, strength and power,” said Marston, writing in The American Scholar. He concluded that the answer was to “create a female character with all the strength of Superman, plus all of the allure of a good and beautiful woman”.

The head of DC Comics at the time asked him to do just that, and Wonder Woman was born (he created her under the name Charles Moulton). Since that time, our heroine has never been out of print (apart from a brief pause for a revamp in 1986), and she also became the star of a 1970s TV series (starring former Miss World USA, Lynda Carter) and a TV movie.

Any retrospective of Marston’s life and work cannot avoid reference to his unconventional living circumstances (he lived happily ever after with both his wife and research assistant and fathered two children with each of them), and this contributed to his seminal work, The Biosocial Theory of Emotion and Personality. The study aimed to explain our emotional responses to others, ourselves and the environment.

Marston needed a yardstick for the various characteristics he was identifying and trying to describe, and devised a short personality test which measured the four traits that, in his view, are the most important: dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance (Disc). His research was published in the 1926 book, The Emotions of Normal People and the Disc test was introduced in the same year.

Today, there are hundreds of different versions of the Disc test in circulation which can be accessed free-of-charge at a number of websites. A quick search on the internet will demonstrate its ubiquity. It has been used to test everything from whether you are a team player, to the suitability of a marriage and sexual partner, and the assessment of a pet’s personality.

“I’ve even seen it used to assess the 12 disciples,” says Donald Worley, managing director of Personality Assessment Solutions, which features a Wonder Woman Disc test on the internet (www.testsonthenet.com). “It isn’t full-blown personality testing, but it can help to give you some insight as to how you behave towards others and in certain environments.”

Its scoring formula has been criticised, but over the years, the basic test has changed very little. “The main flaw is if you get a very high score in two areas, you’ll get a low score in the other two because of the either/or scoring mechanism,” explains Worley. “This makes it impossible for you to be good – or bad – in all four areas.”

William Marston, who died in 1947, would no doubt be gratified to know that Disc has earned a permanent place in the suite of behavioural and personality tests used today and, thanks to the internet, can now be accessed by anyone, anywhere in the world.

As for his other creation, she continues to fight the forces of evil, even though over the years, she’s become more of a US icon than a feminist one. While it’s easy for HR to view the Disc test as Marston’s more pertinent invention, Wonder Woman remains the personification of his life-long championing of the woman’s cause. And for that, a profession dominated by women should applaud him.

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