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Dorothy E.

Johnson is well-known for her

“Behavioral System Model”, which was first
proposed 1968. It advocates the fostering of
efficient and effective behavioral functioning in
the patient to prevent illness and stresses the
importance of research-based knowledge about
the effect of nursing care on patients.
• Born on August 21, 1919 in Savannah, Georgia
• Died in February, 1999 at the age of 80
• Recieved her A.A. from Armstrong Junior College in Savannah,
Georgia (1938); B.S.N. from Vanderbilt University in Nashville,
Tennessee (1942); M.P.H. from Harvard University in Boston (1948)
• Staff nurse at the Chatham-Savannah Health Council (1943-1944)
• Instructor and assistant professor in pediatric nursing at Vanderbilt
University School of Nursing (1949-1978)
• Was an assistant professor of pediatric nursing, associate professor
of nursing, and a professor of nursing at the University of California
in Los Angeles
• Pediatric nursing advisor assigned to the Christian Medical College
School of Nursing in Vellore, South India (1955-1956)
• She chaired the committee of the California Nurses' Association
• Published 4 books; more than 30 articles in periodicals; and many
papers, reports, proceedings, and monographs
Of many honors she received, Johnson was proudest of the
1975 Faculty Award from graduate students, the 1977 Lulu Hassenplug
Distinguished Achievement Award from the California Nurses'
Association, and the 1981 Vanderbilt University School of Nursing
Award for Excellence in Nursing.
The output of intraorganismic structures and
processes as they are coordinated and articulated by
and responsive to changes in sensory stimulation.

A system is a whole that functions as a whole by

virtue of indpendence of its parts. There is
organization, interaction , interdependency, and
integration of the parts dand elements
A behavioral system encompasses the patterned, re-
petitive, and purposeful ways of behaving. These ways of
behaving form an organized and integrated functional unit
that determines and limits the interaction between the person
and his/her environment and establishes the relationship of
the person to the objects, events, and situations within his/
her environment. A person as a behavioral system tries to
achieve stability and balance by adjustments and adaptations
that are successful to some degree for efficient and effective
Parts of the system evolve into subsystems with
specialized task. A subsystem is “a minisystem with its
own particular goal and fuction that can be maintained
as long as its relationship to the other subsystems or
the environment is not disturbed.”
The seven subsystems identified by Johnson are open,
linked, and interrelated. Input and output are components of
all seven subsystems.
Motivational drives direct the activities of these subsys-
tems, which are continually changing through maturation,
experience, and learning. The systems described appear to
exist cross culturally and are controlled by biological,
psychological, and sociological factors.
The attachment/affiliative subsystem is probably
the most critical because it forms the basis for all
social organization. On a general level, it provides
survival and security. Its consequences are social
inclusion, intimacy, and formation and maintenance
of a strong social bond.
“Social inclusion” intimacy and the formation
and attachment of a strong social bond”. It is
probably the most critical because it forms the basis
for all social organization. On a general level, it
provides surviva and security. Its conequences are
social inclusion, intimacy, and formation and
maintenance of a strong social bond.
In the broadest sense, the dependency subsys-
tem promoted helping behavior that calls for a nurtur-
ing response. Its consequences are approval, attention
or recognition, and physical assistance. Developmen-
tally, dependency bahavior evolves from almost total
dependence on others to a greater degree of depen-
dence on self. A certain amount of independence is
essential for the survival of social groups.
The ingestive and eliminative subsystems should not
be seen as the input and output mechanisms of the
system. All subsystems are distinct subsystems with their
own input and output mechanisms.
The ingestive system has to do with when, how,
what, how much, and under what conditions we eat. It
serves the broad function of appetitive satisfaction. This
behavior is associated with social, psychological, and
biogical considerations.
Eliminative subsystem states that “human
cultures have defined different socially acceptable
behaviors for excretion of waste, but the existence of
such a pattern remains different from culture to cul-
ture.” It addresses when, how, and under what condi-
tions we eliminate. As with the ingestive subsystem,
the social and psychological factors are viewed as
influencing the biological aspects of this subsystem
and may be, at times, in conflict with the eliminative
The sexual subsystem is both a biological and so-
cial factor that affects behavior. It has the dual func-
tions of proccreation and gratification. Including, but
not limited to; courting and mating, this response
system begins with the development of gender role
identity and includes the broad range of sex-role
The achievement subsystem provokes behavior
that tries to control the environment. It attempts to
manipulate the environment. Its function is control or
mastery of an aspect of self or environment to some
standard of excellence. Areas of achievement behavior
include intellectual, physical, creative, mechanical, and
social skills.
The aggressive/protective subsystem relates to
the behaviors concerning protection and self-
preservation, generating a defense response when
there is a threat to life or territory. Aggressive be-
havior is not only learned, but has a primary intent to
harm others. Society demands that limits be placed on
modes of self- protection and that people and their
property be respected and protected.
Johnson views human beings as having two major systems:
the biological system and the behavioral system. It is the role
of medicine to focus on the biological system, whereas
nursing’s focus is the behavioral system.
The concept of human being was defined as a behavioral
system that strives to make continual adjustments to achieve,
maintain, or regain balance to the steady-state that is
Johnson views the person as behavioral system with
patterned, repetitive, and purposeful ways of behaving that
link the person to the environment. An individual's specific
response patterns form organized and integrated whole. A
person is a system of interdependent parts that requires some
regularity and adjustment to maintain a balance.
Johnson further assumes that a behavioral system is
essential to the individual. When strong forces or lower
resistance disturb behavioral system balance, the individual's
integrity is threatened. A person's attempt to reestablish
balance may require an extraordinary expenditure of energy,
which leaves a shortage of energy to assist biological
processes and recovery.
Health is seen as the opposite of illness, and Johnson defines
it as “some degree of regularity and constancy in behavior, the
behavioral system reflects adjustments and adaptations that
are successful in some way and to some degree… adaptation
is functionally efficient and effective.”
Johnson perceives health as an elusive, dynamic state
influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors.
Health is a desired value by health professionals and focuses
on the person rather than the illness.
Health is reflected by the organization, interaction,
interdependence, and integration of the subsystems of the
behavioral system. An individual attempts to achieve a
balance in this system, which will lead to functional behavior.
A lack of balance in the structural or functional requirements
of the subsystems leads to poor health. When the system
requires a minimal amount of energy for maintenance, a
larger supply of energy is available to affect biological
processes and recovery.
Environment is not directly defined, but it is implied to include
all elements of the surroundings of the human system and
includes interior stressors.
In Johnson's theory, the environment consists of all the
factors that are not part of the individual's behavioral system,
but influence the system, some of which can be manipulated
by the nurse to achieve the health goal for the patient. The
indi-vidual links to and interacts with the environment. The
be-havioral system attempts to maintain equilibrium in
response to environmental factors by adjusting and adapting
to the for-ces that impinge on it. Excessively strong
environmental for-ces disturb the behavioral system balance
and threaten the person's stability. An unusual amount of
energy is required for the system to reestablish equilibrium in
the face of continuing forces. When the environment is stable,
the individual is able to continue with successful behaviors.
Nursing is seen as “an external regulatory force which acts to
preserve the organization and integration of the patient’s
behavior at an optimal level under those conditions in which
the behavior constitutes a threat to physical or social health,
or in which illness is found.”
Nursing, as perceived by Johnson, is an external force
acting to preserve the organization of the patient's behavior
by means of imposing regulatory mechanisms or by providing
resources while the patient is under stress. An art and a
science, it supplies external assistance both before and during
system balance disturbance and therefore requires knowledge
of order, disorder, and control. Nursing activities do not
depend on medical authority, but they are complementary to
Johnson’s theory guides nursing practice, education, and
research; generates new ideas about nursing; and
differentiates nursing from other health professions.
It has been used in inpatient, outpatient, and community
settings as well as in nursing administration. It has always
been useful to nursing education and has been used in
practice in educational institutions in different parts of the
Another advantage of the theory is that Johnson provided a
frame of reference for nurses concerned with specific client
behaviors. It can also be generalized across the lifespan and
across cultures.
The theory is potentially complex because there are a number
of possible interrelationships among the behavioral system, its
subsystems, and the environment. Potential relationships have
been explored, but more empirical work is needed.
Johnson’s work has been used extensively with people who
are ill or face the threat of illness. However, its use with
families, groups, and communities is limited.
Though the seven subsystems identified by Johnson are said
to be open, linked, and interrelated, there is a lack of clear
definitions for the interrelationships among them which
makes it difficult to view the entire behavioral system as an
Prepared by: Lombres, Genesis (BSN 1-B)