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Token Reinforcement Programs

  • By: Kara E. McGoey & Kristin Rezzetano
  • In: Encyclopedia of Educational Psychology
  • Edited by: Neil J. Salkind
  • Subject:School/Educational Psychology (general), Educational Psychology, School Psychology

First developed and implemented in the 1960s by pioneers such as Nathan Azrin and Gordon Paul, token reinforcement programs, or token economy systems, are behavioral modification systems that reward individuals with tokens for the completion of target behaviors. Tokens are exchanged later for backup reinforcers. To create a successful token economy, tokens, behaviors, reinforcers, and the ratio of exchange should be identified and understood.

An initial step in creating a token economy is choosing what materials or objects will be used as tokens. Tokens used in a token economy should not be inherently reinforcing, but instead should become reinforcing when paired with a backup reinforcer. Items such as baseball cards or stickers should not be used as tokens. Examples of effective tokens include tickets, holes punched ...

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