Johnson Behavioral System (JBS) Model

In this paper, I am going to summarize the Johnson Behavioral System (JBS) Model (Johnson, 1980, 1990),

explain the perspectives for nursing practice, and explore its applicability in nursing practice. First, I am

going to talk a little about Dorothy E. Johnson the nurse that wrote the Model. Dorothy E. Johnson was

born August 21, 1919, in Savannah, Georgia (Lobo, 1995). She received her A.A. from Armstrong Junior

College in Savannah, Georgia, in 1938; her B.S.N. from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, in

1942; and her M.P.H. from Harvard University in Boston in 1948 (Conner, Harbour, Magers, and Watt


Johnson was an instructor and an assistant professor in pediatric nursing at Vanderbilt University School of

Nursing from 1944 to 1949. From 1949 until her retirement in 1978 and subsequent move to Key Largo,

Florida, she was an assistant professor of pediatric nursing, an associate professor of nursing, and a

professor of nursing at the University of California in Los Angeles (Conner et. al. 1994). In 1955 and 1956

she was eligible to go on a sabbatical and went to the Christian Medical College School of Nursing in

Vellore, South India, were she was interested in starting a baccalaureate program which was received well

(Lobo, 1995).

Dorothy Johnson has had an influence on nursing through her publications since the 1950s. Throughout

her career, Johnson has stressed the importance of research-based knowledge about the effect of nursing

care on clients. Johnson was an early proponent of nursing as a science as well as an art. She also believed

nursing had a body of knowledge reflecting both the science and the art. From the beginning, Johnson

(1959) proposed that the knowledge of the science of nursing necessary for effective nursing care included

a synthesis of key concepts drawn from basic and applied sciences.

In 1961, Johnson proposed that nursing care facilitated the client's maintenance of a state of equilibrium.

Johnson proposed that clients were "stressed" by a stimulus of either an internal or external nature. These

stressful stimuli created such disturbances, or "tensions," in the patient that a state of disequilibrium

occurred. Johnson identified two areas that nursing care should be based in order to return the client to a

state of equilibrium. First, by reducing stressful stimuli, and second, by supporting natural and adaptive


Johnson's behavioral system theory springs from Nightingales belief that nursing's goal is to help

individuals prevent or recover from disease or injury. The "science and art" of nursing should focus on the

patient as an individual and not on the specific disease entity. Johnson used the work of behavioral

scientists in psychology, sociology, and ethnology to develop her theory. The model is patterned after a

systems model; a system is defined as consisting of interrelated parts functioning together to form a whole

(Conner et. al. 1994). Johnson states that a nurses should use the behavioral system as their knowledge

base; comparable to the biological system that physicians use as their base of knowledge (Lobo, 1995).


The reason Johnson chose the behavioral system model is the idea that "all the patterned,

repetitive, purposeful ways of behaving that characterize each person's life make up an organized and

integrated whole, or a system" (other). Johnson states that by categorizing behaviors, they can be predicted

and ordered. Johnson categorized all human behavior into seven subsystems (SSs): Attachment,

Achievement, Aggressive, Dependence, Sexual, Ingestive, and Eliminative. Each subsystem is composed

of a set of behavioral responses or tendencies that share a common goal. These responses are developed

through experience and learning and are determined by numerous physical, biological, psychological, and

social factors.

Four assumptions are made about the structure and function of each SS. These four assumptions

are the "structural elements" common to each of the seven SSs. The first assumption is "from the form the

behavior takes and the consequences it achieves can be inferred what drive has been stimulated or what

goal is being sought" (Johnson, 1980). The ultimate goal for each subsystem is expected to be the same for

all individuals. The second assumption is that each individual has a "predisposition to act, with reference

to the goal, in certain ways rather than in other ways" (Johnson, 1980). This predisposition to act is labeled

"set" by Johnson. The third assumption is that each subsystem has available a repertoire