Johnson Behavioral System Model

Contributor: Jacqueline Fawcett
August 23, 2018

Author – Dorothy E. Johnson, RN, MPH

Year First Published – 1980

Her earliest publication established a philosophic foundation for her work:
Johnson, D.E. (1959). A philosophy of nursing. Nursing Outlook, 7, 198–200.

Johnson model2

© 2018 Jacqueline Fawcett

Major Concepts of the Theory

The concepts of Johnson’s Behavioral System Model are:


  • Attachment or Affiliative Subsystem
  • Dependency Subsystem
  • Ingestive Subsystem
  • Eliminative Subsystem
  • Sexual Subsystem
  • Aggressive Protective Subsystem
  • Achievement Subsystem


  • Drive or Goal Set
  • Choice
  • Action or Behavior


  • Protection
  • Nurturance
  • Stimulation


  • Internal Environment
  • External Environment




  • Impose External Regulatory or Control Mechanisms
  • Change Structural Components
  • Fulfill Functional Requirements

A conceptual model of nursing

Brief Description

“Johnson’s work focuses on human beings as behavioral systems, which are made up of all the patterned, repetitive, and purposeful ways of behavior that characterize life. Her work clearly fits the definition of conceptual model used in this book, and she has always classified it as such. The concepts of Johnson’s Behavioral System Model and their dimensions are listed here, along with the goal of nursing and the components of her practice methodology.” (Fawcett, J., & DeSanto-Madeya, S. (2013). Contemporary nursing knowledge: Analysis and evaluation of nursing models and theories (3rd ed., p. 55). Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis.

Primary Sources for the Theory

Johnson, D.E. (1959). A philosophy of nursing. Nursing Outlook, 7, 198–200.

Johnson, D.E. (1961). The significance of nursing care. American Journal of Nursing, 61(11), 63–66.

Johnson, D.E. (1980). The behavioral system model for nursing. In J.P. Riehl & C. Roy (Eds.), Conceptual models for nursing practice (2nd ed., pp. 207– 216). New York: Appleton Century Crofts.

Johnson, D.E. (1990). The behavioral system model for nursing. In M.E. Parker (Ed.), Nursing theories in practice (pp. 23–32). New York: National League for Nursing.

Johnson, D.E. (1992). The origins of the behavioral system model. In F.N. Nightingale, Notes on nursing: What it is, and what it is not (Commemorative edition, pp. 23–27). Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Theories derived from Johnson’s Behavioral System Model

Theory of the Person as a Behavioral System

Alligood, M. R. (2010). Philosophies, models, and theories: Critical thinking structures. In M. R.  Alligood (Ed.), Nursing theory: Utilization and application (4th ed., pp. 47–71). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Theory of a Restorative Subsystem

Grubbs, J. (1974). An interpretation of the Johnson Behavioral System Model. In J.P. Riehl & C. Roy (Eds.), Conceptual models for nursing practice (pp. 160–197). New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Theory of Sustenal Imperatives

Holaday, B., Turner-Henson, A., & Swan, J. (1996). The Johnson behavioral system model: Explaining activities of chronically ill children. In P. Hinton Walker & B. Neuman (Eds.), Blueprint for use of nursing models (pp. 33–63). New York, NY: NLN Press.

Theory of the relation of social support, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and perceptions of functional capacity to adjustment to coronary heart disease

Riegel, B. (1989). Social support and psychological adjustment to chronic coronary heart disease: Operationalization of Johnson’s behavioral system model. Advances in Nursing Science, 11(2), 74–84

Theory of behaviors reported by men and women with cancer and bone metastasis

Coward, D. D., & Wilkie, D .J. (2000). Metastatic bone pain: Meanings associated with self-report and self-management decision making. Cancer Nursing, 23, 101–108.


Dorothy E. Johnson (August 21, 1919 – February 4, 1999)



A.A., 1938,  Armstrong Junior College, Savannah, GA
BSN, 1942, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
MPH, 1948, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

Photo credit


Staff nurse (1943-1944), Chatham Savannah Health Council
Faculty, Pediatric Nursing, Vanderbilt University (circa 1944-1949); University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA; 1949-1978)
– From Holaday, B. (2010). Dorothy Johnson. In M. R. Alligood, & A. M. Tomey (Eds.). Nursing theorists and their work (7th ed., pp. 366-390). St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier.)