Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


46th Annual Convention; Washington DC; 2020

Event Details

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Symposium #158
CE Offered: BACB
Use-Inspired Research on Token Economies
Saturday, May 23, 2020
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Marriott Marquis, Level M4, Independence D
Area: EDC; Domain: Applied Research
Chair: Griffin Rooker (Kennedy Krieger Institute)
CE Instructor: Griffin Rooker, Ph.D.

Token economies are among the most commonly used and successful applied technologies (e.g., Soares, et al., 2016). Tokens offer advantages over providing the directly consumable reinforcer, as they are delivered without interrupting desirable behavior. Further, tokens may allow for longer durations of reinforcer access, which can enhance the value of the directly consumable reinforcer. However, a number of unanswered questions remain about tokens economies (Hackenberg, 2018). The current symposium addresses some of the limitations of the prior literature on token economies through a large-scale survey of current practices to establish and use tokens (Study 1), as well as directly assessing the value of tokens (reinforcing efficacy) across procedures that establish tokens as conditioned reinforcers (Study 2) and assessing the value of tokens (preference) exposed to contingencies (gain, loss, free) related to their practical use (Study 3). Findings from these studies are discussed with regards to practical use of token economies.

Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Applied-behavioral economics, Learning, Motivation, Token economy
Target Audience:

Undergraduates, practitioners, researchers

Learning Objectives: Understand how tokens come to be conditioned reinforcers. Understand how tokens are commonly used. Understand how history with tokens may affect token value.
The Evolution of Token Economies from Research to Practice
NATHALIE FERNANDEZ (University of Florida), Iser Guillermo DeLeon (University of Florida), Tracy Argueta (The University of Florida)
Abstract: Token economies are among the most widely used procedures in behavior analysis and research on token economies has spanned over 80 years. Some textbooks have outlined the essential components of token economies and suggested how they could be trained and implemented in practice (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2019; Miltenberger, 2015). Hackenberg (2018) outlined a plethora of translational and applied research on token systems and suggested there is still much more work to be done. However, procedures evaluated in applied research can vary from how those procedures are implemented in clinical practice. It may be the case that the way in which token economies are implemented in clinical settings do not resemble the procedures described in research and behavior analytic textbooks. We surveyed certified clinicians about their commonly used practices when training and implementing token economies with individuals with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Results suggest that token economies in practice often bear little resemblance to how they are described in the literature. Suggestions for future research will be discussed.

A Comparison of Procedures to Establish Tokens as Conditioned Reinforcers

TRACY ARGUETA (The University of Florida), Iser Guillermo DeLeon (University of Florida), Yanerys Leon (University of Miami), Nathalie Fernandez (University of Florida)

Tokens are among the most common consequences delivered by behavior analysts who work with individuals with developmental disabilities (Graff & Karsten, 2012). However, recommendations for establishing tokens as conditioned reinforcers vary and many questions remain about best practices. In this study, children with intellectual and developmental disabilities completed preference and reinforcer assessments, from which we identified two to three backup reinforcers. We then evaluated four procedures for establishing tokens as conditioned reinforcers, usually followed by extinction tests to determine if the token had assumed any independent value. We began with stimulus-stimulus (SS) pairing of tokens with the backup reinforcers. If SS pairing did not establish tokens as conditioned reinforcers, we evaluated response-stimulus (RS) pairing and/or noncontingent token-exchange training, in which participants exchanged noncontingently delivered tokens for backup reinforcers. If neither of these procedures established tokens as conditioned reinforcers, we assessed response-contingent token-exchange training. Results suggest that (1) exchange plays a critical role in supporting reinforcer effectiveness, and (2) the conditions under which we evaluate the effects of token training might influence our results and conclusions.


Token Preference Following Exposure to Gain, Loss, and Free Contingencies for an Individual With Autism Spectrum Disorder

MOLLY K MCNULTY (Kennedy Krieger), Griffin Rooker (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Alexander Rodolfo Arevalo (Kennedy Krieger Institute ), Drew E. Piersma (Kennedy Krieger Institute), Jennifer N. Haddock (Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Kennedy Krieger Institute ), Michelle A. Frank-Crawford (Kennedy Krieger Institute)

Conditioned reinforcers (e.g., tokens) assume the reinforcing value of the primary reinforcer with which they were paired. Behavioral economic concepts and some applied evidence suggest that the use of conditioned reinforcers with different reinforcement and punishment contingencies could alter their perceived value (adding value or devaluing that token). In particular, working to gain tokens or losing tokens may increase their value; whereas, getting tokens for free may decrease their value. The current study examined one participant’s preference for two different tokens immediately following the use of these tokens in the context of reinforcement and punishment contingencies (contingent reinforcement, noncongtingent reinforcement, and loss). Results of the study are consistent with behavioral economic research and suggest that contingent reinforcement and loss contingencies may have value adding effects; whereas, noncontingent reinforcement contingencies may have devaluing effects. Results are discussed within the context of a behavioral economic framework and practical applied advice is provided.




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