One of the most important applications of behavior analysis is based on using tokens as generalized conditioned reinforcement. Tokens are arbitrary items like poker chips, tickets, coins, checkmarks in a daily log, and stars or happy-face symbols given to students. To establish these objects as reinforcement, the applied researcher has a person exchange tokens for a variety of backup reinforcers. A child may exchange five stars for a period of free play, a selection of toys, access to drawing materials, or an opportunity to use a Lego set.
A token economy is a set of contingencies or a system based on token reinforcement. That is, the contingencies specify when, and under what conditions, particular forms of behavior are reinforced with tokens. It is an economy in the sense that the tokens may be exchanged for goods and services much like money is in our economy. This exchange of tokens for a variety of backup reinforcers ensures that the tokens become conditioned reinforcers.
Systems of token reinforcement have been used to improve the behavior of psychiatric patients (Ayllon & Azrin, 1968), juvenile delinquents (Fixsen, Phillips, Phillips, & Wolf, 1976), pupils in remedial classrooms (Breyer & Allen, 1975), normal children in the home (Alvord & Cheney, 1994), and medical patients who must follow a plan of treatment (Carton & Schweitzer, 1996; Dapcich-Miura & Hovell, 1979). Token economies also have been designed for alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, nursing-home residents, and retarded persons (see Kazdin, 1977, for a review).
One of the first token systems was designed for psychiatric patients who lived in a large mental hospital. Schaefer and Martin (1966) attempted to modify the behavior of 40 female patients who were diagnosed as long-term schizophrenics. A general characteristic of these women was that they seemed uninterested in the activities and happenings on the ward. Additionally, many of the women showed little interest in personal hygiene (i.e., they showed a low probability of washing, grooming, brushing teeth, and so on). In general, Schaefer and Martin referred to this class of behavior as apathetic and designed a token system to increase social and physical involvement by these patients.
The women were randomly assigned to a treatment or control group. Women in the control group received tokens no matter what they did (i.e., noncontingent reinforcement). Patients in the contingent reinforcement group obtained tokens for specific classes of behavior. Tokens could be traded for a variety of privileges and luxuries. The response classes were personal hygiene, job performance, and social interaction. For example, a patient earned tokens when she spoke pleasantly to others during group therapy. A social response like "Good morning, how are you?" resulted in a ward attendant giving her a token and praising her effort. Other responses that were reinforced included personal hygiene like attractive use of cosmetics, showering, and generally maintaining a well-groomed appearance. Finally, tokens were earned for specified jobs such as wiping tables and vacuuming carpets and furniture.
Notice that the reinforcement system encouraged behavior that was incompatible with the label "apathetic." A person who is socially responsive, who is well groomed, and who carries out daily jobs is usually described as being involved with life. To implement the program, general response classes such as personal hygiene had to be specified and instances of each class, such as brushing teeth or combing hair, had to be defined. Once the behavior was well defined, ward staff were trained to identify positive instances and deliver tokens for appropriate responses.
Over a 3-month period of the study, the ward staff counted instances of involved and apathetic behavior. Responses in each class of behavior—hygiene, social interaction, and work—increased for women in the contingent-token system, but not for patients who were simply given the tokens. Responses that were successful in the token economy apparently were also effective outside the hospital. Only 14% of the patients who were discharged from the token system returned to the hospital, and this compared favorably with an average return rate of 28%.
Although Schaefer and Martin (1966) successfully maintained behavioral gains after patients were discharged, not all token systems are equally effective (see Kazdin, 1983, for a review). Programs that teach social and life skills have lower return rates than those that do not. This presumably occurs because patients taught these skills can take better care of themselves and interact more appropriately with others. Of course, these operants are valued by members of the social community who reinforce and thereby maintain this behavior.
Token economies that gradually introduce the patient to the world outside the hospital also maintain behavior better than those programs with abrupt transitions from hospital to home. A patient on a token-economy ward may successively earn day passes, overnight stays, weekend release, discharge to a group home, and eventually a return to normal living. This gradual transition to everyday life has two major effects. First, contrived reinforcement on the token system is slowly reduced or faded and, at the same time, natural consequences outside of the hospital are contacted. Second, the positive responses of patients are shifted from the relatively dense schedules of reinforcement provided by the token system to the more intermittent reinforcement of the ordinary environment.
Because of increasing budget constraints for many mental hospitals in the United States, there has been an alarming increase in the rapid discharge of psychiatric patients. Many of these individuals have been relegated to the ranks of the poor and homeless. According to our analysis of the token economy, this kind of policy is shortsighted. Programs that teach a range of useful skills and that allow for successful entry into work and community settings are more humane and economically productive in the long run. Generally, programs of behavior management and change offer alternative solutions for many social problems (Glenwick & Jason, 1980).
Was this article helpful?
Alcoholism is something that can't be formed in easy terms. Alcoholism as a whole refers to the circumstance whereby there's an obsession in man to keep ingesting beverages with alcohol content which is injurious to health. The circumstance of alcoholism doesn't let the person addicted have any command over ingestion despite being cognizant of the damaging consequences ensuing from it.