Psychology Behind Token Economy

Psychology Behind Token Economy

Token Economy

A token economy is a type of behavioral management in which an individual receives a reward for engaging in the desired behavior. The technique of physically paying someone for exhibiting particular actions that are set as expectations is known as a token economy. The number of times the person successfully executed the intended behavior and demonstrated it is represented by tokens. Mental health facilities were the first to employ token economies as a behavioral tactic to compensate patients for completing assignments and following regulations. Tokens were used to compensate patients, enabling them to obtain the desired outcome and encouraging adherence to regulations.

Example: A chip reward system is an illustration of a token economy. When pupils exhibit the required behavior in the classroom, teachers can give them a token or a chip as a reward. The student can trade the chips or tokens for the desired award.

Basic Requirements

There are requirements which are basic for the token economy:

1) Tokens:

Tokens are ineffective unless they are utilized as reinforcers. A token is a thing or symbol that can be used to trade for rights, services, or tangible reinforcers (back-up reinforcers). Numerous tokens have been employed in applicable settings, including coins, checkmarks, points on a counter, check marks on a poster, and representations of tiny suns or stars. The exchange value of these symbols and objects makes them valuable even though they are essentially worthless outside of the context of patient-clinician or teacher-student relationships. Researchers have conducted many studies on token reinforcement, including animal studies.

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2) Back-up reinforcers

Despite having no inherent worth, individuals can exchange tokens for rewards or other valuable reinforcing events known as backup reinforcers. A variety of alternative reinforcers, which can be almost anything, are available in most token economies. Several potential reinforcers include:

  • Reinforcement materials: candies, smokes, notepads, and cash
  • Services: Bed breakfast, room cleaning, entertaining activities
  • Benefits and extras include phone calls, phone passes for exiting a building or region, wall-mounted photos of oneself, and the ability to remain in bed.
3) Specific target behavior

Target behaviors might include a wide range of actions, including taking care of oneself by washing, going to events on time, acting well in class, and refraining from disruptive behavior. There is more to a token economy than merely exchanging tokens. A token economy needs well-defined criteria in order to function. In a token economy, giving tokens to a customer solely based on a staff member’s perception of their performance does not belong, as it is not carried out in a methodical manner.

Occasionally, client guides specify the number of tokens that can be obtained for each goal behavior. For example, staff and clients need to be aware of what a well-made bed looks like if making the bed is a target habit.

Token Economy In Practice

1. For children’s:
Developmental Impairments:

Children with developmental difficulties have shown improved attention spans and motivation when given tokens to complete activities. According to research, it can support social conduct and lessen disruptive behavior.

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Educational Institutions:

Various school systems, especially in special education programs, have used token economies. Increased focus and a decrease in disruptive behavior are possible outcomes. Token economies in educational contexts appear to increase students’ intrinsic incentive to finish activities.

2. Adults:

Mental health settings for adults mostly use token economies. In previous research, the vast majority of customers willingly opted to remain in the program when given the option.


Several recent reviews of psychosocial treatment for schizophrenia explicitly mention token economy as an effective, evidence-based treatment and one systematic review specifically examined token economy. The token economy approach may have effects on symptoms such as apathy and poverty of thought, but it is unclear if these results are reproducible, clinically meaningful and are maintained beyond the treatment program. In the instance of schizophrenia, the token economy system addresses the symptoms by:

  1. Encouraging patients to engage in positive behaviors, such as having a shower and putting on clothes for the day (if they experience negative symptoms, like avolition, this can be a major issue affecting their day).
  2. They get a token right away from exhibiting this behavior.
  3. They can trade tokens for prizes like a day excursion or a stroll around the garden once they have accumulated a particular amount.
Developmental Disorders

Environments for adults with developmental disabilities have also implemented token economies. Target behaviors might include reducing inappropriate and/or disruptive behavior as well as various forms of self-care and social behavior.

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3. Shaping

Shaping suggests that clients can learn behavior in small steps, and it doesn’t expect them to accomplish everything correctly at once. Rewarding clients who initially exhibit behavior close to the target is possible. Clients can first receive reinforcement for five minutes of attention, possibly on a lower scale, if the desired behavior is maintaining attention for a thirty-minute session.

4. Token Economy in Therapy and Rehabilitation

    Therapeutic settings employ Token Economies to inspire individuals to overcome obstacles and achieve specific objectives. For instance, addiction treatment facilities might give tokens to patients for completing drug tests, attending counseling sessions, or achieving certain recovery milestones.

    5. Token Economies in Prison

    Prison systems commonly use token economies as a component in their behavioral management plans. Authorities can award tokens to prisoners who follow institutional guidelines, participate in vocational programs, or exhibit good behavior towards others. Individuals can use these tokens to obtain access to a specific amenities or privileges, such as visiting rights.

    Benefits of Token Economy

    Promotes Good Conduct

    Token economies incentivize people to participate in constructive activities by offering tokens as a reward. The possibility of obtaining tokens encourages children to take positive actions, which improves the atmosphere for personal development

    Individualized Training

    One can customize TOKEN ECONOMIES to fit their unique requirements and tastes. The ability to modify the tokens’ value in accordance with the interests of the user ensures a customized approach to reinforcement.

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    Measurable Progress Monitoring

    In token economies, individuals may quantitatively track progress. Gaining more tokens encourages a person to feel proud of themselves and keep going forward by giving them a concrete indicator of their accomplishments.

    Through methodical reinforcement, the Token Economy is a potent psychological theory that encourages positive behavior. We can use TOKEN ECONOMIES to promote growth and positive change in a variety of contexts by comprehending its definition, psychology, and practical applications. Through dispelling myths and embracing the advantages of Token Economies, we may foster conditions that support long-term, constructive change and personal growth.

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