Malden native William Moulton Marston. (Courtesy Photo)
Lifestyle, News

Malden man credited with creating Wonder Woman, lie detector test

MALDEN — The top fundraiser for the Malden Public Library each year is its Triple Threat Trivia Night where many of the city's "movers and shakers" team up and compete by answering questions about any subject under the sun.

Here are two questions that might stump even the most learned person on the topic of Malden history and its people.

Can you name the person who created the internationally-known superhero "Wonder Woman"?  

Can you name the inventor of a key component of the first lie detector test?

The answer to both questions is the same: Malden native William Moulton Marston, a Malden High School Class of 1911 graduate who attended Harvard College and Tufts College. Marston was a well-known psychologist and author in the 1930s and 1940s.

Marston and his personal life is the subject of a feature film that has been in theaters since October, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.

"Wonder Woman is the most popular female comic-book superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no other comic-book character has lasted as long," said Harvard history professor and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore in a Smithsonian magazine article.

At a time when women's rights centered around the suffrage movement leading up to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, their supporters did not include large numbers of men.

Marston, however, was one of them. Born in Saugus in 1893, Marston was an early supporter of both women's suffrage and women's rights in general. To that point, he is noted as having read an essay backing a woman's right to vote to a meeting of the Malden Literary Society at Malden High School in 1910, according to the yearbook, The Maldonian.

His interest in women's rights is regarded as the impetus for his creation of "Wonder Woman," who is regarded as the first female superhero. She followed a line of male superheroes in the 1930s and 1940s such as Superman, Batman, and The Green Lantern. He is said to have modeled his character after qualities he saw in his wife Elizabeth, and Olive Byrne, a former Tufts student and business associate who also lived with the Marstons.

The "Wonder Woman" comic first appeared in 1941 and drew criticism, along with many comic books of the time, purportedly contributing to juvenile delinquency in youth. The premise of the Professor Marston and the Wonder Women film is an interview between Marston and an outspoken opponent of comic books and flashbacks in his life.

Marston, a psychologist, could be considered a bit of a Renaissance Man as well. He created and unveiled his own version of a systolic blood pressure test designed to be a new and additional component of the lie detector test, which was invented by Augustus Larson in Berkeley, Calif.

Once again, his wife, Elizabeth, played an integral role in his development of the test, with Marston crediting her with first suggesting that the relationship between blood pressure and emotion could have a significant role in determining the truthfulness of answers when subjects were being evaluated while hooked up to the lie detector hardware.

The lie detector test has been a major generator of debate since first introduced in Larson's and Marston's version to this day, where it is largely computerized and digitized.

"The American Polygraph Association claims accuracy rates of over 90 percent, leading some critics to put the polygraph accuracy rate at around 65 percent that is only slightly better than the 50 percent correct one would get by flipping a coin," said Dr. Nigel Barber in a Psychology Today story.

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