Token Economy

Study: Sullivan & O'Leary (1990)

Study Type: Single-Subject Design

Descriptive Information Usage Acquisition and Cost Program Specifications and Requirements Training

A token economy is a contingency management system that allows participants to earn tokens for presenting specific, positive behaviors which are later exchanged for predetermined backup reinforcement (Kazdin, 1977). The essential requirement is that the tokens are systematically linked to a menu of meaningful reinforcement options. As such, the primary reinforcers (i.e., tokens) acquire symbolic value akin to ordinary currency within classical monetary systems (Wolery, Bailey, & Sugai, 1988). The standard features of token economies are aligned with the critical features of other behavior modification programs (Hall, 1979). These five elements include: (a) the identification of specific target behaviors, (b) the identification of tokens for primary reinforcement, (c) the development of a menu of backup reinforcement options to award appropriate behavior, (d) the creation of an explicit protocol for exchanging primary reinforcers for backup reinforcers, and (e) the development of procedures for fading the use of the token economy system (Wolery et al.). As a result, the token economy is only one example of a range of behavioral techniques which link the delivery and acquisition of tokens to specified behavioral expectations. The differentiating feature of token economies from other systems of token reinforcement, therefore, is the understanding that tokens are later traded or exchanged for items that hold greater perceived value.

Token economy is intended for use in Kindergarten through high school. It is intended for use with students with disabilities, learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, emotional or behavioral disabilities, English language learners, and any student at risk for emotional and/or behavioral difficulties.

The area of focus is externalizing behavior, which includes: physical aggression, verbal threats, property destruction, noncompliance, high levels of disengagement, disruptive behavior, and social behavior.

The token economy is a non-commercial intervention and, therefore, does not have a formal pricing plan. Moreover, the cost of the program will ultimately depend on the materials used as tokens and reinforcers. The structure of the program requires the delivery of tokens (e.g., tickets, points marked on a sheet, poker chips) for appropriate behavior and the development of a menu of backup reinforcers (e.g., pencils, small toys, gift cards, coupons, homework pass) to deliver to students. As such, the cost of the program can be adjusted to match the available resources of the schools. It is recommended, however, that schools allot a certain portion of the budget for the intervention to ensure that backup reinforcers and tokens are readily available to increase the likelihood that the intervention is implemented as intended.

Token economy is designed for use with individual students, small groups of students, or with a classroom of students. Only one interventionist is needed to implement the program.

Program administration varies depending on program procedures (i.e., it could be in effect for 20 minutes at a time or the entire day with regular intervals for feedback). Token economies are typically in place for a period of time on a daily basis and are typically in place until responsiveness indicates school personnel should initiate a fading procedure.

The program does not include highly specified teacher manuals or instructions for implementation.

The program is not affiliated with a broad school or class wide management program.

The program does not require technology for implementation.

Training is required for the interventionist. The non-commercial nature of the program makes training on the procedures of the token economy critical to ensure it is implemented reliably. As such, the school personnel charged with developing the token economy methods should be prepared to ensure all faculty who have a role in implementation understand (a) the behaviors being targeted, (b) the method and criteria for delivering the tokens, (c) the process for providing the student with feedback on (both positive and negative) their behavior, and (d) the procedures and "cost" of various backup reinforcers. This training can likely be done in an initial introductory training session with follow-up troubleshooting on specific implementation issues and questions following the initial use of the program.

The interventionist must at a minimum be a paraprofessional.

Training manuals and materials are available. The token economy has been operationalized in several scholarly resources and a number of manuals have been developed to assist practitioners develop formal implementation procedures (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).

There is no ongoing support available for practitioners. 
 

 

Participants: Unconvincing Evidence

Risk Status: Students were identified based on teacher referral. In addition, the authors reported Connor Rating Scale information for each student which provided normed based evidence that students struggled with aggression, inattention, anxiety, and/or hyperactivity depending on the particular student. It is worth noting that all students had scores that deviated from the mean on at least one subscale.

Demographics:

 

Age/ Grade

Gender

Race-ethnicity

Socioeconomic status

Disability Status

ELL status

Other Relevant Descriptive Characteristics

Case 1: Group 1 (Figure 1)

7-9 years old

5 boys, 5 girls

Not reported

Not reported

Academic and behavioral problems (90% of students had remedial academics, all students had elevated Connor's scores)

Not reported

 

Training of Instructors: Minimal teacher information was provided aside from her having experience with behavioral techniques. There was no information on training though the teacher was prompted with bug-in-ear technology.

Design: Convincing Evidence

Does the study include three data points or sufficient number to document a stable performance within that phase? Yes

Is there opportunity for at least three demonstrations of experimental control? Yes

If the study is an alternating treatment design, are there five repetitions of the alternating sequence? Not applicable

If the study is a multiple baseline, is it concurrent? Not applicable

Implemented with Fidelity: Unconvincing Evidence

Description of when and how fidelity of treatment information was obtained: Fidelity was not reported.

Results on the fidelity of treatment implementation measure: Not reported.

Measures Targeted: Convincing Evidence

Targeted Measure

Reliability statistics

Relevance to program focus

Exposure to related support among control group

On-and Off-Task

Interrater agreement was reported and the kappa agreement indicated adequate agreement suggesting the system was implemented consistently across raters.

The outcome measure was relevant because it was deemed a behavior of concern and the intervention was specifically targeted to address these outcomes.

The baseline description provides support for the notion that the token economy was the key difference between the intervention and baseline phases. Moreover, given the structured nature of the study, there is reasonable assurance that the number of scans was the primary difference between intervention and fading conditions. However, there was no fidelity data provided.

 

Broader Measure

Reliability statistics

Relevance to program focus

Exposure to related support among control group

N/A

 

 

 

 

Mean ES Targeted Outcomes: N/A

Mean ES Administrative Outcomes: N/A

Effect Size:

Visual Analysis (Single-Subject Designs): Partially Convincing Evidence

Description of the method of analyses used to determine whether the intervention condition improved relative to baseline phase (e.g. visual analysis, computation of change score, mean difference): Visual inspection.

Results in terms of within and between phase patterns: Visual analysis indicates that student behavior increased following the implementation of the token intervention phase. Moreover, it appears that the number of scans had a moderate effect for the reward program as indicated by the downward trend observed in both fading periods. This effect did not seem to replicate for the cost program though it does appear that more frequent scans were associated with some improvement in on-task behavior. These results for the cost program should be considered carefully however. Overall, the results seem to provide some support for the token program albeit marginal.

Disaggregated Outcome Data Available for Demographic Subgroups: No

Target Behavior(s): Externalizing

Delivery: Individuals, Small groups (n=2-30), Classrooms

Fidelity of Implementation Check List Available: No

Minimum Interventionist Requirements: Paraprofessionals No training required

Intervention Reviewed by What Works Clearinghouse: No

What Works Clearinghouse Review

This program was not reviewed by What Works Clearinghouse.

Other Research: Potentially Eligible for NCII Review: 13 studies

Alvarez, A. (1973). A Token Economy: The Use of Positive Reinforcement and Extinction in Reducing Aggressive Behavior in the Classroom of the Socially Maladjusted Child. (Master’s Thesis). Available from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT EP12315).

Ayllon, T. & Roberts, M. D. (1974). Eliminating Discipline Problems by Strengthening Academic Performance. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 7, 71-76.

Breyer, N. L. & Allen, G. J. (1975). Effects of Implementing a Token Economy on Teacher Attending Behavior. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 8, 373-380.

Drege, P. & Beare, P. L. (1991). The Effect of a Token Reinforcement System with a Time-Out Backup Consequence on the Classroom Behavior of E/BD Students. Journal of Special Education, 15, 39-46.

Hewett, F. M., Taylor, F. D., & Artuso, A. A. (1969). The Santa Monica Project: Evaluation of an Engineered Classroom Design with Emotionally Disturbed Children. Exceptional Children, 35, 523-529.

Higgins, J. W., Williams, R. L., & McLaughlin, T. F. (2001). The Effects of a Token Economy Employing Instructional Consequences for a Third-Grade Student with Learning Disabilities: A Data-Based Case Study. Education and Treatment of Children, 24, 99-106.

Kirk, J. A. (2009). A Comparison of Traditional and Function-Based Token Systems. (Doctoral Dissertation). Available from Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. (Publication No. AAT 3340241).

Klimas, A. & Mclaughlin, T. F. (2007). The Effects of a Token Economy System to Improve Social and Academic Behavior with a Rural Primary Aged Child with Disabilities. International Journal of Special Education, 22, 72-77.

Maglio, C. & McLaughlin, T. F. (1981). Effects of a Token Reinforcement System and Teacher Attention in Reducing Inappropriate Verbalizations with a Junior High School Student. Journal of Behavior Technology Methods and Therapy, 27, 140-145.

Nevin, A., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. (1982). Effects of Group and Individual Contingencies on Academic Performance and Social Relations of Special Needs Students. Journal of Social Psychology, 116, 41-59.

O'Leary, K. D. & Becker, W. C. (1967). Behavior Modification of an Adjustment Class: A Token Reinforcement Program. Exceptional Children, 9, 637-642.

O'Leary, K. D., Drabman, R. S., & Kass, R. E. (1973). Maintenance of Appropriate Behavior in a Token Program. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 1, 127-138.

Ward-Maguire, P. R. (2008). Increasing On-Task Behavior and Assignment Completion of High School Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders (Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation). University of South Dakota, Vermillion.