Nursing Research: (Dorothy) Johnson’s Behavioral System Model

Johnson’s Behavioral System model consists of two major components, nursing and person. Nursing is a function of actions and goals while person is described as a behavioral system (Johnson, D. E., 1980). 

As a behavioral system, the person is made up of interrelated subsystems that influence one another and are influenced by the environment. The seven subsystems are open and linked. While equilibrium is the goal of the behavioral system, maturation causes each subsystem to continuously change which results in temporary disturbances in equilibrium. 

Nursing Theory


Greater disequilibrium occurs due to environmental stimuli or internal forces, and nursing is an external regulatory force that assists the person to regain equilibrium. The seven subsystems have requirements of protection, nurturance, and stimulation from the environment. Without the existence of those requirements, the subsystems are unable to perform their function.

Behavioral actions of the subsystem are also driven by a particular goal, the individual’s “set” which is a predisposition to respond in a particular way, and the choices that the individual may make.
The function of the attachment/affiliative subsystem is security. Social inclusion, intimacy, and social bonding are part of that security. The dependency subsystem evolves developmentally from total dependence on others to independence that continues to provide nurturance in terms of approval, attention, or recognition as well as physical assistance. The achievement subsystem is concerned with mastery or control of some aspect of self or environment. Proposed consequences include physical, creative, mechanical, and social skills.
Behavioral, rather than biological, aspects are the focus of the ingestive and eliminative subsystems. Therefore, appetite satisfaction is identified as the function of the ingestive subsystem and behavioral excretion of wastes as that of the  eliminative subsystem. The emphasis is on when, where, how, what, how much, and under what conditions individuals eat or eliminate wastes. Social and psychological factors are major influences on these subsystems.
Procreation and gratification are the dual functions of the sexual subsystem. Cultural norms and values as well as biological sex influence this subsystem. Consequences of this subsystem include gender identity, courting, and mating. The function of the aggressive subsystem is defined as self-protection and preservation, and is not viewed as a learned, negative response.
The Behavioral System model leads the researcher to problems and solutions. Researchers have investigated behavioral system distresses that are connected to illness or major environmental stimuli. In clinical practice, the usefulness of Johnson’s model has been demonstrated, particularly with the nursing process and assessment of outcomes. Using this model, nursing assessments are based on patterns that individuals have for meeting their needs. Johnson’s model has also been used as a framework for nursing interventions that are personalized for individual patients (Cox, M., 1994; Derdiarian, 1990; Ho-laday, 1997), and patient classification systems have been developed based on the subsystems identified in this model (Poster,Dee, & Randell, 1997).
With the goal of maintaining or restoring balance to an individual’s behavioral system, nurses can develop precise measurements for evaluating the efficacy of nursing actions.

Majesky, Brester, and Nishio (1978) devel-oped patient indicators of nursing care. This tool is considered one measure of quality nursing care. W. Reynolds and Cormack (1991) have been able to evaluate outcomes of nursing interventions with psychiatric patients. Numerous other studies have demonstrated the usefulness of the Behavioral System model in nursing practice in a variety of settings (Raudonis & Acton, 1997; Stuifbergen, Becker, Rogers, Timmerman, & Kulberg, 1999). Thus the ultimate goals of research using the Behavioral System model are to study the effects of nursing action on the behavioral system equilibrium and to foster changes as appropriate.


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