Token Economy

Study: Walker, Hops, & Fiegenbaum (1976)

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:  All students were referred to the self-contained setting. In addition, all students were rated as having high scores on the Walker Problem Behavior Identification Checklist, verified levels of disruptive behavior, academic deficits, and low rates of appropriate behavior.

Demographics:

 

Age/ Grade

Gender

Race-ethnicity

Socioeconomic status

Disability Status

ELL status

Other Relevant Descriptive Characteristics

Case 1: Class, Experiment 1

6-9 years old, grades 1-3

Four boys and one girl

Not reported

Not reported

Not indicated

Not reported

The reporting of participant information makes it difficult to generalize results to specific individuals. As such, the aggregated data for all subjects is reported though the reviewers can consider individual level data reported in the study if that is preferred. A similar limitation applies to the second study reported in this manuscript. However, that study has the added limitation of not providing three opportunities to demonstrate the treatment effect and, therefore, was not reviewed.

Training of Instructors: Teacher background and experience were not reported.

Design: Partially 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: 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

Percentage of intervals with appropriate behavior

Interrater agreement was reported to be 93%, indicating that the system was applied consistently across observers.

The outcome was relevant to the focus of the program because it was identified as a behavior in need of modification.

There was no control group, but there was a baseline condition description indicating that there was considerable control over the delivery of social and token reinforcement depending on the particular comparison being made.

 

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 analysis. Please note that the aggregated data for subjects represented in the top panel of Figure 1 is referred to here.
 
Results in terms of within and between phase patterns: The visual analysis of social reinforcement alone as compared to the use of tokens provides support for the added value of token reinforcement. Specifically, the data clearly shows a small, but stable level change between social reinforcement in isolation as compared to the use of tokens. The increasing trend associated with the token phase provides further evidence.
 
The visual analysis of social reinforcement with tokens as compared to social reinforcement with tokens and cost contingency indicated additional effects of the use of cost contingencies. This was evident through the high rate of appropriate behavior demonstrated by students as a whole which, again, demonstrated a small but stable level change over the use social reinforcement and tokens alone.
 

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.