A token economy is a method of behavior modification intended to increase desirable behaviors and decrease undesirable behaviors with the use of tokens. Individuals receive tokens immediately after displaying desirable behavior. Individuals collect these tokens and later exchange them for a meaningful object or privilege (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Anthony and Mia are typically developing seven-year-old twins whose parents expressed concern regarding the children’s mathematical abilities. More specifically, the children are having problems adding and subtracting multi-digit whole numbers.
Both children are students in the second grade and attend a public school. It is suggested that the children engage in a token economy program. However, the school that they attend does not allow such programs to be implemented on an individual basis. Therefore, the parents will implement the program in their home environment. A token is anything that is visible and countable. Tokens should preferably be attractive, easy to carry or store and dispense, and difficult to counterfeit (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Upon interviewing their parents, it is determined that both children enjoy playing with marbles.
Therefore, the token used for Anthony and Mia will be marbles. Anthony favors the color blue; therefore, the tokens used for him will be blue marbles. Mia favors the color red; therefore, the tokens used for her will be red marbles. Individuals participating in a token economy need to know exactly what they must do in order to receive tokens and rules for successful task completion (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). The target behavior for Anthony and Mia is to answer math problems containing the addition and subtraction of multi-digit whole numbers correctly and show their work for each problem.
For every math problem answered correctly, the child will receive one token (marble). The child will receive an additional token for each math problem answered correctly that they showed their work. For example, Anthony answers the math problem of 219 + 12 correctly but does not show his work. He will receive one token. However, if he answers the problem correctly and does show his work, he will receive two tokens. The same will apply for Mia. Back-up reinforcers are the meaningful objects, privileges, or activities that individuals receive in exchange for their tokens.
The success of a token economy depends on the interest of the back-up reinforcers. Individuals will only be motivated to earn tokens if they anticipate the future reward represented by the tokens. A well-designed token economy will use back-up reinforcers chosen by individuals. However, the chosen back-up reinforcers must follow ethical considerations. According to Cooper, Heron, and Heward (2007), “token reinforcement contingencies that would deny the learner basic needs or access to personal or privileged information or events should not be used” (p. 563).
In addition, denying general comforts associated with basic rights is unethical (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Back-up reinforcers for Anthony and Mia would be specific to each child. Through an assessment, it is determined that each child has specific activities, edible items, and tangible items that they prefer. For Anthony this would include Hot Wheels cars, Scooby Doo stickers, scoop of chocolate ice cream, and thirty minutes of gaming. For Mia this would include nail polish, Disney Princess stickers, scoop of strawberry ice cream, and thirty minutes of television viewing.
Both children enjoy going to Chuck E. Cheese and Galaxy Games and Golf. Therefore, these would also be back-up reinforcers for the children. Each back-up reinforcer must have a rate of exchange. According to Miltenberger (2012), “the exchange rate must be such that the client can acquire some backup reinforcers for exhibiting a reasonable level of desirable behavior but does not acquire so much of the reinforcers that satiation occurs” (p. 454). Adjusting the exchange will often times occur after beginning the token economy to generate the best results (Miltenberger, 2012).
Anthony and Mia will be given 50 math problems Monday through Thursday. The total number of tokens they will be able to earn each day is 100. The ratio of exchange for each backup reinforcer for Anthony is as followed: Hot Wheel car = 10 tokens, sheet of Scooby Doo stickers =10 tokens, scoop of chocolate ice cream = 15 tokens, thirty minutes of gaming = 20 tokens. The ratio of exchange for Mia will be as followed: nail polish =10 tokens, sheet of Disney Princess stickers = 10 tokens, scoop of strawberry ice cream = 15 tokens, thirty minutes of television viewing = 20 tokens.
The children will be able to save tokens to exchange for a weekly backup reinforcer, which is going to either Chuck E. Cheese or Galaxy Games and Golf. These activities will cost the each child 200 tokens. The ratio of exchange for each child was determined by the monetary value and demand for each backup reinforcer. The ratio of exchange starts small in order to provide immediate success for the children. However, every week the ratio of exchange for the backup reinforcers will increase by five tokens for each.
Because Anthony and Mia are using marbles as tokens, they will need a place to store their tokens until it is time to exchange them for backup reinforcers. Each child will be given various arts and crafts materials (e. g. scissors, glue, colored construction paper, markers) to decorate a shoebox. An adult will cut a hole in the lid of the shoebox large enough for the marbles to fit through the hole. The marbles earned by each child will be stored in their individual decorated box. Anthony and Mia will be able to exchange their tokens daily. The children will work on the math problems from 3:00 pm to 5 pm daily.
Anthony will work on his math problems with their father and Mia will work on hers with their mother. Once completing each problem, the parent will check to see if the child is correct and whether they showed their work. If the child answered the question correctly, they will immediately receive on token and put it in their shoebox. If the child answered the question correctly and showed their work, the child will immediately receive two tokens and put them in their box. At 7 pm, after dinner, the children will be able to exchange their tokens for backup reinforcers.
Anthony’s backup reinforcers will be kept in a blue tote whereas Mia’s will be kept in a red tote. Activities that the children can exchange their tokens for will be written on a colored index card and kept inside the totes as well. Each tote will also contain a menu of the backup reinforcers that the tote contains. The menus will consist of pictures of the backup reinforcers and the price for the backup reinforcers. For instance, Anthony’s menu would have a picture of a scoop of chocolate ice cream with 15 marbles written beside the picture.
Procedures must also be present that specifies what happens if token requirements are not met. If the children do not answer a math problem correctly, they will not receive a token. The parent assisting the child will explain and show the child how to achieve the correct answer. There are also situations in which a child does not have enough tokens to exchange for a desired backup reinforcer. For example, Mia’s favorite television show comes on at 8 pm on Tuesday. Monday Mia earned 22 tokens. She exchanged 10 for nail polish and 10 for a sheet of Disney Princess stickers.
She had 2 tokens remaining. Tuesday she earned 17 tokens; she now has 19 tokens. In order to earn thirty minutes of television viewing she has to have 20 tokens, which she does not have. The parent assisting Mia with exchanging her tokens will tell her that she does not have enough tokens for that specific item and encourage her to try again. Implementing a response cost in addition to reinforcement is sometimes necessary. “In response cost, the person loses a quantity of a specific reinforcer contingent on the occurrence of the problem behavior” (Miltenberger, 2012, p. 70).
The response cost must occur immediately following the problem behavior. The behaviors subject to response cost must be clearly defined and stated in the rules of the token economy. The individual must understand what behaviors will result in losing tokens and how many token they will lose for such behaviors. More severe behaviors, such as hitting or cheating, should result in a greater loss of tokens than less severe behaviors, such as crawling on the floor during dinner (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). Response cost for Anthony and Mia would not be necessary.
The purpose of the token economy for them is to increase their math skills in regards to adding and subtracting multi-digit whole numbers. They earn tokens by correctly answering math problems and showing their work. When applying response cost, they would lose a token when answering a question incorrectly, which will more than likely result in causing them to have a token debt. This would potentially decrease the reinforcement value of the tokens (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007). When implementing the token economy, there is always potential that unintended behavioral changes will occur.
For instance, Anthony starts to become irritated more easily than usual when trying to answer math problems. His focus is solely on answering the question correctly so that he can earn tokens that he begins to make simple mistakes in showing his work. In order to avoid this behavior, the parent working with him will prompt him to take his time and focus on the problem. Mia usually does not display jealous behaviors towards her brother. When implementing the token economy she may become jealous if Anthony receives more tokens than she does.
In this situation, the parent working will her will prompt her to focus on her own accomplishments. It would also be beneficial to have the children work on their math problems in separate areas, which would help them to focus on their work and not how the other is doing. There are ethical issues to consider when implementing the token economy in regards to Anthony and Mia. According the BACB (2010), behavior analysts must avoid or minimize the use of harmful reinforcers. Because ice cream is used as a backup reinforcer, it is important to minimize the use of the ice cream as a reinforcer.
Therefore, the children can be limited to exchanging their tokens for one scoop of ice cream daily. In addition, when program modifications are necessary, the behavior analyst must inform those involved of the modifications (BACB, 2010). When implementing a token economy, the ultimate goal is to maintain the behavior change without the token economy. Behavior analyst will typically plan how to remove the program before implementing the program. Because of the children’s age, it would be best to explain these modifications as they are occurring throughout the program (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007).