Token Economy


When we talk about behavior modification it is difficult with children as compare to adults. Moreover when we deal with special child it took more efforts to modify a special child’s behavior and it is more difficult to learn new things for a special child. Today I’m going to define a psychological method that helps you to modify a child’s behavior. It is called token economy. It helps to modify desirable behavior and diminished the undesirable behavior of a child. When a person show desirable behavior he/she rewarded with tokens and later these tokens can be exchanged by any meaning full objects and give to that person.


The first use of the program of Token Economy was dispute but mid of the 19th century, in 1967 was known for the Token Economy when Nathan Azrin, Teodoro Ayllon and Leonard Krasner applied the token economy to the psychiatric patients in a hospital. In 1980’s, the usage of token economy procedure was increased tremendously from adult patients to adolescents and preschoolers. Today, this technique mostly used in educational settings or for treatment purposes.


The behavior modification technique which is based on the principle of operant conditioning, introduced by B.F Skinner. Token economy is the systematic program of behavior modification. In which the target behavior is the goal to be achieve or strengthening of existing desired or targeted behavior. In this procedure, the token used as a conditioned reinforce which exchanged later on with the backup reinforce. This backup reinforce pair with the token which would be earned by the exhibition of targeted behavior.

Components of Token Economy

There are following components or parts for the procedure of token economy which should be considered while conducting this technique.

  1. Determination of the target behavior
  2. Selection of the token
  3. Rules specification for how could be tokens earned or lost
  4. Specification of back-up consequences and their cost
  5. Establishing of the rate for Token Exchange
  6. Training and Management of the staff

Determination of the Target Behavior

The first step of the program is the defining or explaining the target behavior for which the program of token economy is conduct. The nature of the desire behavior vary from environment to environment depends upon the treatment. For example in educational institute, the child was modified for the B grade in a test or for a child with ADHD to establish the eye contact with therapist for 30 seconds.

Selection of the Token

It is very important to label anything as a token for exchange. It could be a candy, a sticker or smiley faces etc. There are few things which should be keep in mind:

  • Tokens should be able to carry out by the clients and if is in points so written records should be in possession of therapist or caretaker of the procedure.
  • It should be keep away from the client so; chance of stealing remains minimum.
  •  It should not be purchasable or attainable from outside.
  • The therapist should have a record of the token which are earn or lost.

Rules Specification for Token Earn or Lost

There should be well-maintain rules for the token system like how a client can earn the tokens like for a client to show pro-social behaviors as a desirable behavior, for each hand shake there is a token. And for a fighting there is a loss of 5 tokens.

Specification of Back-up Consequences and Their Cost

For the effectiveness of the token economy, there is a backup reinforcer which should pair with the conditioned reinforcer. Token would be common but the backup reinforcers are specific depends on the client of the treatment program. These reinforcers should not have survival value or they should not be primary needs. Examples are the favorite dish, extra time for gamming etc.

Establishing of the Rate for Token Exchange

The earned tokens by exhibiting the desire behaviors must be exchange with the backup reinforcers on specific, decided rates. On the same way losing of the token is showing the undesirable behaviors. The managing team first decides the rates of token exchange at the beginning of the token economy program. These rates should not be too high to result in the demotivation of the client. There is also a specific limit of earning of the tokens for a specific desired behavior like combing for 1 token but should not be 7 times a day. E.g. there should be 10 tokens for extra 30 minutes of TV watching or gamming and 1 token can earn by taking lunch on time.

Training and Management of the Staff

The program of token economy needs a systematic, well-maintained system. The proper look after should be there for the effectiveness of the system. For an institute, there must be a team and at home organized environment and well-award caretakers should present.

Following Points should be Keep in Mind

Although it seems an interesting as well as a productive activity for the children but there are some considerations for the process of token economy:

  • As it looks easier exercise for the children to modify their behavior but they can learn that there is a conditional love from the caretaker, so it is important to keep them remember that it is only just for the undesirable behaviors.
  • Sometimes, children consider it as a playing activity for them so there should be a broad line between the playing and token economy procedure.
  • There should be no other way to get the token or your child should be on proper check and balance in that procedure so the effectiveness of the procedure of token economy should be there.
  • In some cases, it is notice that children in some institutes involve in the stealing the tokens to get their back up reinforcer. So, their act stealing things empowered by this procedure.
  • It should keep in mind that there should not be the dependence on the procedure for the children. If this dependence built then there would be so many difficulties present for the fading from the therapist or trainer for the token economy procedure.
  • There should be the edibles to use as token in this procedure because there is a increase chance of the cheating from the client or it is difficult for the trainer to keep them for longer procedure.
  • It should not be the longer procedure because the longer or effortful procedure become boring for the child to take interest in the system for the token economy. There should be a professional and wise way design of the system of token economy which should be achievable for the child.

What is a Token Economy chart?

The information about the token economy system or the amount of the token needed for the particular backup reinforcer is illustrate in the form of chart. Which is known as token economy chart for behavior modification. This chart should place out of the reach of the child and should be under control by the trainer. When there is a need of changing in board, the presence of child and trainer make possible so, there is no confusion for both parties. There are many forms of the token economy chart like;

  • There can be a laminated sheet for the sticking of favorite stickers of the child like smilies, stars, favorite cartoon character like Mickey Mouse etc.
  • A Velcro board can be use for this behavior modification procedure by which some type of Velcro button or sticker can be place.
  • A simple writing board can also be use for this purpose
  • A diary is also an effective method to note the whole procedure for a particular target behavior to be modify.


  • Hospitalized psychotic patients or patients in an institute
  • Adolescents with behavior disorders
  •  Preschoolers at home or in play group
  •  Hyperactive children with some disorder
  •  Enrolled mainstream school students with some behavioral issues
  •  Students with learning disabilities
  • University students with behavioral issues
  •  Juvenile delinquents in correctional facilities or treatment programs
  • Workers in industrial settings


  • Obtaining of desired behaviors is the goal of this technique but it also helpful in the management skills as a byproduct.
  • There are varies techniques for behavior modification but they show slow progress. In token economy, the results are immediate.
  • Easy to allocate and easy for client to adopt the procedure.
  • It is highly structured program. So, it also helpful for the setting of daily routine.
  • Reinforcement in the form of token economy can be quantified easily. So, varies targeted behaviors can achieved a greater or lesser magnitude of reinforcement.


Every technique of behavior modification has some drawbacks as the program of token economy. There are following disadvantages…

  • For this program, there a need of money like for the trained staff, for backup reinforcers so it could be expensive.
  • If the therapist fails to motivate the client effectively there are chances present for the termination of the program by the client easily.
  • Earning of the tokens, waiting for the reinforcer can demotivate the client. As there is lot of time consumption from the both sides.
  • At home there is fewer chance of the conduction of the program. So, there is a need of a structure environment and organized layout of the program.
  • Unprofessional or non-organized staff cannot manage the token economy. So, training  and managing skills are require.
  • It is a successful technique for the behavior modification but it can induce dependency but could be difficult to fade away.

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