How To Use a Token Economy to Promote Good Behaviour
Token economies are often used in elementary classrooms and in therapeutic settings with special needs populations, particularly ABA interventions for children on the autism spectrum. They can also be used at home, to improve discipline and compliance with chores or studying. You are probably familiar with the concept of a token economy already, even if you've never heard the expression before. Chore charts and charts used for such things as potty training or getting homework done on time are examples of a token economy.
How a Token Economy Works
In each case, one or more targeted behaviours are chosen and rewarded with a token that can be used to “purchase” a reward at a later time. Tokens – poker chips, stickers, happy faces, stars, check marks, points, etc. - are rewarded when the desired action is taken. A certain number of tokens can then be collected and exchanged for a reward , called the “ back-up reinforcer .” So in the potty training example, a toddler earns a sticker for each time he sits on the potty. After so many stickers are earned, the reward will be given.
Rewards can take the form of a privilege like computer time, an extra outing to the park, or getting to lead the class on the way to gym. It can also be a tangible reinforcement – like a pizza day for the whole class, a candy, or choosing a prize from a treasure chest.
Tokens Taking on Value
Because there is no intrinsic value in the tokens, a token economy is seen as a form of operant conditioning . It pairs a back-up reinforcer that has an intrinsic value with a token whose value is derived from its value in an exchange.
Over time, the token itself becomes desirable. This allows a parent or teacher to reward good behaviours immediately , when reinforcement is most effective, without interrupting the flow of an activity or daily routine. It also allows for the value of a token to be reduced in order to fine tune a behaviour.
In many primary school classrooms, teachers will use a token economy at the beginning of the year to teach and reinforce classroom rules. Later in the year different behaviours can be targeted, and the teacher can use the same token economy to encourage excellence rather than mere compliance with basic rules. You can use a similar approach with chore charts or a marble jar at home, adjusting the difficulty with which a token can be earned and the number of tokens needed to “buy” a given reward.
Note: This content has been adapted from an original piece by the author, which has since been removed from Bubblews
Image Credit » https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flohspiel_hg.jpg