Token economies are among the oldest and most successful teaching programs in applied behavior analysis. Unlike other successful technologies in behavior analysis, however, there has been little meaningful contact between the science of token reinforcement and applications of the science. Despite a half-century of applied work on token economies, surprisingly little is known about the variables responsible for their effectiveness; they are rarely based on an understanding of the basic principles involved, or on the latest research. My aim in this presentation is to bridge the gap between research and application, by providing evidence-based recommendations and practical guidelines for application of token reinforcement methods. I will address issues related both to setting up a token economy from scratch and to maintaining it once it has been established. I will focus on best practices related to: (a) establishing tokens as reinforcers, (b) maintaining behavior through scheduling of token reinforcers, (c) generalizing the functions of tokens, and (d) the motivational and economic contexts in which the teaching programs are embedded. Although token economies have proven generally effective across a range of settings and populations, they could be even more effective when based on what is known about token reinforcement from both laboratory and applied settings. Thus, apart from specific recommendations, I hope to show the benefits of an integrated evidence-based approach to the application of token reinforcement principles in educational and clinical settings.

Learning Objectives

  1. The participant will be able to identify the three main components of a token economy.
  2. The participant will be able to distinguish between specific and generalized reinforcers.
  3. The participant will be able to identify the two main behavioral functions of tokens.

About the Presenter

Tim Hackenberg
Tim Hackenberg received a B.A. degree in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine in 1982 and a doctorate in Psychology from Temple University in 1987, under the supervision of Philip Hineline. He held a post-doctoral research position at the Institute for Disabilities Studies at the University of Minnesota with Travis Thompson from 1988-90. He served on the faculty in the Behavior Analysis program at the University of Florida from 1990-2009, and at Reed College, until his retirement in 2022. He serves currently as Editor-in-Chief for Perspectives on Behavior Science, and as an Associate Editor Frontiers in Psychology (Comparative). He has served as an Associate Editor of the Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior and served on the Board of Directors of the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, of the Society for the Quantitative Analysis of Behavior, as President of Division 25 of the American Psychological Association, as the Experimental Representative to the ABAI Council, and as the Director of the ABAI Science Board. His major research interests are in the area of behavioral economics and comparative cognition, with a particular emphasis on decision-making, token economies, and social behavior. In work funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, he and his students have developed procedures for cross-species comparisons of complex behavior. He now lives in England with his two dogs and one wife, where he enjoys walking in the forest, and watching the daily drama unfold at the bird feeder in the garden.

Course information

  • Title: Everything you ever wanted to know about token economies
  • Presenter: Tim Hackenberg Ph.D.
  • Date: Wednesday, August 21st
  • Time: 12:00 AM Pacific
  • Duration: 1 hour and 40 minutes