Token Economies: General Guidelines

6. The Rules

The individuals in a token economy should be made well aware of the rules, the presentation of which will vary depending on their cognitive ability. This may involve telling them the rules to the best of their understanding, and, with higher functioning persons, perhaps also writing out the rules and displaying them in a conspicuous place for easy reference. By establishing specific rules, the performance of clients may be facilitated (Kazdin, 1977; 1985). Furthermore, it makes clear to the them that earning and losing tokens is not determined by the whim of the token administrators. Martin & Pear (1998) recommend preparing a written set of rules for staff explaining in detail "what behaviors are to be reinforced, how they are to be reinforced with tokens and backup reinforcers, the times at which reinforcement is to be available, what data are to be recorded, how and when they are to be recorded, and the responsibilities and duties of every staff member" (pp. 302-303).

Each target behavior in a token economy needs to be defined precisely. This helps ensure that (1) the participants know exactly what is expected of them and (2) the program administrators can record the behaviors and deliver the tokens reliably. For example, without further specification, "reading books" at Achievement Place (see Table 1A) may be open to interpretation. Managers at the group home may award Joe points for reading anything, including comic books, while the teaching parents may award points only for reading school books. Over time Joe may become confused or even angry. The behavior strengthened, reading comic books, may be different than the targeted behavior, reading school books. Furthermore, the records may suggest improvement to the teaching parents when in fact there was none according to their definition.

The target behaviors will obviously vary depending on the problem. The most important consideration is that the target behaviors are socially significant or meaningful for the individuals involved in the program.