Token economy

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Template:Psychology (sidebar) A token economy is a system of behavior modification based on the principles of operant conditioning. Contingency management systems are often employed by those who practice applied behavior analysis. It is one approach to a contingency management program. Specifically, the original proposal for such a system emphasized reinforcing positive behavior by awarding "tokens" for meeting positive behavioral goals. The first therapeutic use of a token system was by Avendano y Carderera in 1859, who described a "ticket" for rewarding good behavior in children.[1] The system as popularized in a year-long study conducted by Teodoro Ayllon in Florida was primarily geared towards changing adolescent behavior. Ayllon's study included only adolescent males.

Ayllon's tokens themselves were not reinforcers; tokens were accumulated and "spent" in order to obtain a reinforcer. "Patients earn tokens, which they can exchange for privileges, such as time watching television or walks on the hospital grounds, by completing assigned duties (such as making their beds) or even just by engaging in appropriate conversations with others" (Nolen-Hoeksema's Abnormal Psychology, p.409). Early during the program, a participant would be required to spend all of his or her tokens daily to emphasize the reinforcement activity early, and as time passed and success was made, participants would be allowed (or required) to accumulate their tokens over the course of longer time periods. This, as a variable-rate scheduling system, helped prevent extinction of the behavior after the program's termination.


The following must be defined:

  1. Desired behavior(Transparency)
  2. A large number of rewards
  3. What is a token
  4. How are tokens allocated
  5. How are the token earnings changing while approaching the goals
  6. How many tokens will be earned achieving the desired behavior
  7. How many tokens are necessary to get rewards (or maybe to do be allowed to do something). Earning and exchange of tokens have to be in a well-balanced proportion.

If the desired behavior is achieved, the token program must be faded out.

Advantages of token economy

  • tokens are flexible
  • tokens can be used for several needs and therefore saturation is improbable
  • there is no delay giving tokens after the desired behavior has been shown
  • it does not matter who gives the tokens (an automat is also possible)
  • mostly the token economy is well-regulated thus it is easy for therapists to decide whether they have to give a token or not

Requirements of token economy

  • it is very important to observe the rules (nobody must give them awards otherwise the token economy will be corrupted)
  • 10% - 20% of clients do not respond to token economies

See also


  1. Matson JL, Boisjoli JA (2008). "The token economy for children with intellectual disability and/or autism: a review". Res Dev Disabil. doi:10.1016/j.ridd.2008.04.001. PMID 18486442.

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