Token Economy

Study: Christensen, Young, & Marchant (2004)

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: Convincing Evidence

Risk Status: Eduardo was referred by his teacher due to a high rate of inappropriate classroom behavior. The rate of inappropriate behavior was verified through baseline data collection.

Justin was referred by the principal and the classroom teacher. This was due to a high rate of office referrals that were related to disruptions and a lack of work completion.

Demographics:

 

Age/ Grade

Gender

Race-ethnicity

Socioeconomic status

Disability Status

ELL status

Other Relevant Descriptive Characteristics

Case 1: Eduardo

8

Male

Hispanic

Reduced lunch

Learning disability

ELL

It was determined that Eduardo had an attention seeking problem behavior that was maintained by both adult and peer attention for disruptive behavior.

Case 2: Justin

8

Male

Caucasian

Free lunch

Learning disability (though did not meet state discrepancy criteria)

No

It was reported that Justin's problem behavior was maintained by peer and teacher attention for inappropriate behaviors.

Training of Instructors: The interventionists consisted of the classroom teacher and a selected peer monitor. The teachers both had bachelor's degrees in elementary education and had taught for approximately 5 years. The peer monitors were students enrolled in the classroom that did not demonstrate inappropriate behaviors. Like Justin and Eduardo, these students were from low socioeconomic backgrounds, as indicated by their lunch pricing.

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: Convincing Evidence

Description of when and how fidelity of treatment information was obtained: Treatment fidelity was collected using classroom observations from the school behavior specialist once a week. The specialist would collect the data using a developed fidelity checklist. A permanent product was used to collect fidelity data on student delivery of reinforcers.

Results on the fidelity of treatment implementation measure: The average rate of fidelity for both students exceeded 80%. The permanent product fidelity form indicated 100% fidelity.

Measures Targeted: Partially Convincing Evidence

Targeted Measure

Reliability statistics

Relevance to program focus

Exposure to related support among control group

Percentage of socially appropriate behavior

The mean interrater agreement was 88%.

The percentage of intervals with socially appropriate behavior was relevant for the focus of the program because it was functionally related to the goal of the intervention and represented behaviors that were positive in their orientation.

A social comparison group was used to compare the performance of target students. These students did not receive formal support.

 

Broader Measure

Reliability statistics

Relevance to program focus

Exposure to related support among control group

None

 

 

 

 

Broader Measure

Relevance to program focus

Office Discipline Referrals

Justin was referred less often to the office, which is a broader measure of the effects of the program though it was not an intended goal.

 

Mean ES Targeted Outcomes: N/A

Mean ES Administrative Outcomes: N/A

Effect Size:

Visual Analysis (Single-Subject Designs): 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): The results provide support for the effects of the token economy intervention. Specifically, the data demonstrated clear and consistent changes in level across phases in which the PBS intervention was instituted. It should be noted, however, that it seems that the reinforcement schedule was an important indicator of intervention success, particular for Eduardo. The effects observed were immediate and supported with minimal trend in the data. Moreover, the variability in the data did not interfere with making judgments with visual inspection.

Results in terms of within and between phase patterns: See study

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.