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“I want to stay inside!” Cindy said in a scared voice, “There’s a dog out there.”
Ch Apter 24 ▸ Planning, Applying, and Evaluating a Behavioral Program
Deciding Whether to Design a program Following a referral
Behavioral problems have a variety of causes, come in a variety of forms and types, and differ widely
in degree of complexity and severity. The fact that a problem has been referred is not always a sufficient reason for proceeding with program design and implementation. To decide whether and where to
begin, answering the following questions during the screening or intake phase of behavioral assessment
is helpful (see Chapter 20).
1. Was the Problem Referred Primarily for the Benefit of the Client? If the problem was referred
by others, you must determine whether the accomplishment of the goal will be for the benefit of
the client, which was obviously true for Cindy. If its accomplishment is for the benefit of others,
it should be at least neutral for the client. Ethical considerations may require that some referrals
simply stop here.
2. Is the Problem Important to the Client or to Others? You might ask two questions to evaluate
the importance of the problem: Will solving the problem lead to less aversiveness or more positive
reinforcement for the client or others? Will solving the problem be likely to give rise directly or
indirectly to other desirable behaviors? If the answer to either of these questions is no, you should
reconsider your involvement with the problem. Solving Cindy’s problem not only led to Cindy
enjoying interaction with dogs, it also increased the likelihood of Cindy and her family visiting the
homes of friends and family who had dogs.
3. Can the Problem and the Goal Be Specified So That You Are Dealing with a Specific Behavior or
Set of Behaviors That Can Be Measured in Some Way? Many referrals are vague, subjective, and
general, such as, “Chris is a poor student,” “My child is driving me up a wall,” “I’m really an unorganized person.” If the problem is initially vague you must specify a component behavior or behaviors
that (a) define the problem and (b) can be measured or assessed objectively. In such cases, however,
it is important to ask whether dealing with the defined component behavior(s) will solve the general
problem in the eyes of the referring agent or agencies. If it is impossible to agree with the agent on the
component behaviors that define the problem, then you should probably stop there. If you do achieve
agreement, it should be specified in writing. The specific target behaviors for Cindy included such
things as calmly walking in the dog park and then approaching and petting dogs.
4. Have You Eliminated the Possibility That the Problem Involves Complications That Would
Necessitate Referring It to Another Specialist? In other words, are you the appropriate person
to deal with this problem? If there is any chance that the problem has medical complications, serious psychological ramifications such as the danger of suicide, or a DSM-5 diagnosis (see Note 1 of
Chapter 1 for information on the DSM-5) that you are not qualified to treat, the appropriate specialist should be consulted. You should then treat the problem only in a manner that the specialist
recommends. In Cindy’s case, prior to treatment, Cindy’s father had indicated that Cindy did not
have any current or previous medical difficulties, and was not on any medications.
5. Is the Problem One That Would Appear to Be Easily Manageable? To answer this question, you
should consider the following: If the problem is to decrease an undesirable behavior, has the behavior
been occurring for a short time, under narrow stimulus control, and with no intermittent reinforcement? A problem with these characteristics is likely to be easier to solve than an undesirable behavior
that has been occurring for a long time, under the control of many situations, and with a history of
intermittent reinforcement. Moreover, you should identify desirable behavior that can replace the
undesirable behavior. If the problem is to teach a new behavior, you should assess whether the client
has the prerequisite skills. If there is more than one problem, you should rank order them according
to their priorities for treatment and begin with the problem assigned the highest priority. In Cindy’s
case her parents indicated that her dog phobia had developed between the ages of 3 and 5 years,
which is a lengthy time. However, at the beginning of therapy, Cindy herself expressed a desire to be
able to pet dogs, and the applied behavior analyst was confident that the phobia could be managed.
6. If the Desired Behavior Change Is Obtained, Can It Be Readily Generalized to and Maintained in
the Natural Environment? To answer this question, you should consider how your training setting can be faded into the natural environment. You should also consider whether the natural environment has contingencies that will maintain the improved behavior, whether you can influence
people in the natural environment to help maintain the improved behavior, and whether the client
can learn a self-control program (discussed in Chapter 26) that will help the improved behavior
persist. In Cindy’s case, the applied behavior analyst programmed generalization by conducting the
last stages of therapy with a variety of dogs in a dog park.
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7. Can You Identify Significant Individuals (Relatives, Friends, and Teachers) in the Client’s Natural
Environment Who Might Help Record Observations and Manage Controlling Stimuli and
Reinforcers? When designing programs for children, you should consider whether the parents can
successfully implement and maintain the program. It makes little sense to accept a referral that would
require 2 hours per day for a child in a single-parent family if you have only about 1 hour each week
to spend on the project, the parent works full-time, there are four other children who require parental
attention, and no other adults are available to implement the program.
8. If There Are Individuals Who Might Hinder the Program, Can You Identify Ways to Minimize
Their Potential Interference? It makes little sense for you to design a program if people are
going to sabotage it by, for example, reinforcing undesirable behavior that you are trying to
On the basis of your tentative answers to these eight questions, are your training qualifications,
daily schedule, and available time adequate for you to participate in the program? You should accept
referrals only for which you have the appropriate training and time to carry out an effective program.
When a behavior modifier first enters settings in which interventions are requested, such as a
group home for persons with developmental disabilities, the home of a child with problems, or a
classroom, the behavioral problems and the number and complexity of potentially disruptive influences are often staggering. For obvious reasons, it is best to start simple in order to succeed in a small
way rather than to attempt too much and risk failing gloriously. A careful evaluation of the initial
referral in terms of these questions and considerations can often contribute greatly to the success of
a behavioral program.
Questions for Learning
1. How does a behavior modifier evaluate the importance of a problem?
2. What does a behavior modifier do when given a vague problem such as “aggression” to work on? Illustrate with
3. How does a behavior modifier evaluate the ease with which a problem might be solved?
4. How does a behavior modifier evaluate the ease with which the desired behavioral change might be generalized
to and maintained in the natural environment?
5. Assume that you are a professional applied behavior analyst or behavior therapist. List four possible conditions
under which you would not treat a behavior problem that has been referred to you.
Selection and Implementation of a preprogram
Suppose that you have decided to treat a problem that has been referred to you. You might then proceed through the following steps of implementing a preprogram assessment procedure as introduced in
Chapter 20 (pages 191–192, 196).
1. For a reliable baseline, define the problem in precise behavioral terms.
2. Select an appropriate baseline procedure (see Chapters 20, 21, and 23) that will enable you to
a. monitor the problem behavior
b. identify the current stimulus control of the problem behavior
c. identify the maintaining consequences of the problem behavior
d. monitor relevant medical/health/personal variables
e. identify an alternative desirable behavior
3. Design recording procedures that will enable you to log the amount of time devoted to the project
by professionals (such as teachers or group home staff). This will help you to do a cost-effectiveness
4. Ensure that the observers have received appropriate training in identifying the critical aspects of
the behavior, applying the recording procedures, and graphing the data.
5. If the baseline is likely to be prolonged, select a procedure for increasing and maintaining the
strength of the record-keeping behavior of the people recording the data.
6. After beginning to collect baseline data, analyze the data carefully to select an appropriate treatment
or intervention strategy and decide when to terminate the baseline phase and begin the intervention.
Ch Apter 24 ▸ Planning, Applying, and Evaluating a Behavioral Program
We reviewed the guidelines for behavioral assessment in Chapters 20, 21, and 23, and will not
repeat them here. However, you as a behavior modifier should answer some additional questions during
the pretreatment assessment phase:
What Daily Times Can the Mediator(s) Schedule for This Project? If a teacher has about 10 minutes
each day just before lunch to devote to the project, there is no sense in (a) designing time-sampling
data sheets that require the teacher to assess behavior throughout the day or (b) gathering data that the
teacher will never have time to examine.
Will Others in the Situation Help or Hinder Data Collection? There is no sense in designing a
baseline procedure to record the duration of a child’s tantrumming in a home situation if a grandparent, aunt, brother, or other relative is going to give the child a candy to stop the tantrums. On
the other hand, well-instructed and motivated relatives and friends can often be extremely helpful,
either by recording data directly or by reminding others to do so. If the help of others is to be utilized, posting data sheets and a summary of the recording procedures where everyone involved in
the project can see them is a good practice.
Will the Surroundings Make Your Assessment Difficult? If you want to determine a baseline
for the frequency and timing of a child’s marking on walls throughout the day and the house has
many rooms through which the child wanders, it may be difficult to immediately detect instances
of the behavior. Or suppose that you want a baseline for someone’s smoking behavior, but during
the baseline period that person spends time in the home of a friend who doesn’t smoke. Obviously,
this is not ideal for assessment procedures. If you want to assess a child’s basic self-dressing skills
by presenting clothing items with appropriate instructions while the child’s favorite TV program is
blaring in the background, your assessment is not likely to be accurate.
How Frequent Is the Problem Behavior? Is it a problem that occurs often each day? Or is it one
that occurs once every few weeks? In some cases, your answers to these questions might influence
you to withdraw from the project. A problem behavior that occurs rarely can be extremely difficult
to treat if you have limited time available for the project. Certainly, the perceived frequency of the
behavior will dictate the type of recording procedure as described in Chapter 21 to be selected.
How Rapidly Should the Behavior Change? Does the behavior require immediate attention because of its inherent danger (e.g., self-injury)? Or is the behavior one whose immediate change is
merely convenient for those concerned (e.g., parents wanting to toilet train their child just before
going on vacation)? If the behavior (e.g., smoking) has been occurring for many months and if
another few days or weeks can be tolerated, you might be more diligent to design a detailed datarecording system to reliably assess baseline levels of performance.
Is the Presenting Problem a Behavioral Deficit or Can It Be Reformulated as Such? Even if the
problem is a behavioral excess to decrease, you should try to identify a desirable alternative behavior to increase. In Cindy’s case the applied behavior analyst used an anxiety disorders interview
schedule and a child-behavior checklist, as part of a detailed preprogram assessment during a semistructured interview with Cindy’s parents, which ensured the presence of a diagnosable specific
phobia of dogs and the absence of other significant emotional and behavioral problems. Baseline
observations were also taken of Cindy’s fear of dogs during the first session.
Questions for Learning
6. What five variables should an appropriate baseline procedure enable you to monitor or identify?
7. What six questions should a behavior modifier answer during the pretreatment assessment phase?
Strategies of program Design and Implementation
Some behavior modifiers are skillful at designing effective programs off the top of their heads—that
is, identifying the program details that are critical to success and that produce rapid desirable results.
There are no guidelines that will immediately turn you into that kind of behavior modifier. Nor are
there any rigid sets of guidelines to which you should adhere for every program you design. Many
behaviors can be managed successfully with a minor rearrangement of existing contingencies; others
require much creativity. The following guidelines will help you to design an effective program in most
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1. Identify the goals for target behaviors and their desired amount and stimulus control. Then answer
a. Is the description precise?
b. On what grounds did you choose the goal, and how is it in the client’s best interest?
c. Has the client been given all possible information about the goal?
d. Have steps been taken to increase the client’s commitment to accomplish the goal? (Commitment
was discussed in Chapter 17 and is discussed later in this chapter.)
e. What are potential side effects of accomplishing the goal for both the client and others?
f. Do the answers to the foregoing questions suggest that you should proceed? If so, then continue.
2. Identify individuals (friends, relatives, teachers, and others) who might help to manage controlling
stimuli and reinforcers. Also identify individuals who might hinder the program.
3. Examine the possibility of capitalizing on antecedent control. Can you use:
b. goal setting
d. physical guidance
e. situational inducement (rearrange the surroundings, move the activity to a new location, relocate
people, or change the time of the activity)
f. motivating operations
4. If you are developing a new behavior, will you use shaping, fading, or chaining? What MEO will
you use (see Chapter 19)?
5. If you are changing the stimulus control of an existing behavior, can you select the controlling SDs
so that they:
a. are different from other stimuli on more than one dimension
b. are encountered mainly in situations in which the desired stimulus control should occur
c. evoke attending behavior
d. do not evoke undesirable behavior
6. If you are decreasing a behavioral excess:
a. can you remove SDs for the problem behavior
b. can you withhold reinforcers that are maintaining the problem behavior or present MAOs for
those reinforcers (see Chapter 19)
c. can you apply DRL to reduce the rate of the behavior to a low but acceptable rate
d. can you apply DRO, DRI, or DRA (note that each of these will incorporate extinction of the
problem behavior assuming that you can identify and withhold maintaining reinforcers for it)
e. should you use punishment? Remember that punishment, if used at all, is acceptable only (if
at all) as a last resort and under appropriate professional supervision with appropriate ethical
7. Specify the details of the reinforcement system by answering these questions.
a. How will you select reinforcers? (See Chapter 4.)
b. What reinforcers will you use? Can you use the same reinforcers currently maintaining a problem
behavior? (See Chapter 23.)
c. How will reinforcer effectiveness be continually monitored, and by whom?
d. How will reinforcers be stored and dispensed, and by whom?
e. If you use a token system or token economy, what are the details of its implementation (see
Chapter 5 and 25)?
8. Specify the training setting. What environmental rearrangement will be necessary to maximize the
desired behavior, minimize errors and competing behavior, and maximize proper recording and
stimulus management by the mediators who will directly carry out the program?
9. Describe how you will program generality of behavior change (Chapter 16) by:
a. Programming stimulus generalization. Can you:
(i) train in the test situation
(ii) vary the training conditions
(iii) program common stimuli
(iv) train sufficient stimulus exemplars
(v) establish a stimulus equivalence class
b. Programming response generalization. Can you:
(i) train sufficient response exemplars
Ch Apter 24 ▸ Planning, Applying, and Evaluating a Behavioral Program
(ii) vary the acceptable responses during training
(iii) use behavioral momentum to increase low probability responses within a response class
c. Programming behavior maintenance (generality over time). Can you:
(i) use natural contingencies of reinforcement
(ii) train the people in the natural environment
(iii) use schedules of reinforcement in the training environment
(iv) give the control to the individual
Specify the details of the daily recording and graphing procedures.
Collect the necessary materials (such as reinforcers, data sheets, graphs, and curriculum materials).
Make checklists of rules and responsibilities for all participants in the program (staff, teachers,
parents, peers, students, the client, and others; see Figure 24.1).
Specify the dates for data and program reviews, and identify those who will attend.
Identify some contingencies that will reinforce the behavior modifiers and mediators (in addition to
feedback related to the data and program reviews).
Review the potential cost of the program as designed (cost of materials, teacher time, professional
consulting time, etc.), and judge its merit against its cost. Reprogram as necessary or desired on the
basis of this review.
Sign a behavioral contract. A behavioral contract is a written agreement that provides a clear statement of what behaviors of what individuals will produce what reinforcers and who will deliver
those reinforcers. Behavioral contracting was described initially as a strategy for scheduling the
exchange of reinforcers between two or more individuals, such as between a teacher and students
(Homme, Csanyi, Gonzales, & Rechs, 1969) or between parents and children (Dardig & Heward,
1976; DeRisi & Butz, 1975; Miller & Kelley, 1994). Treatment contracts between behavior therapists and clients are also recommended to ensure that the behavior therapist is accountable to
the client (Sulzer-Azaroff & Reese, 1982). In general, a treatment contract is a written agreement
between the client and the applied behavior analyst or behavior therapist that clearly outlines the
objectives and methods of treatment, the framework of the service to be provided, and contingencies
for remuneration that may be forthcoming to the behavior modifier. When the agreement is signed,
both the client and the behavior modifier have secured basic protections of their rights. We recommend that behavior modifiers prepare such a written agreement with the appropriate individual(s)
prior to implementing a program.
Implement the program. The implementation of your program also requires a great deal of consideration. This might be done in two parts. First, you must be certain that those carrying out the
program—the mediators—understand and agree with their roles and responsibilities. This might
involve a detailed discussion and review session with the mediators. It may also involve some
modeling and demonstration on your part, perhaps some role-playing on the part of the mediators
depending on the complexity of the programs, and finally some monitoring and on the spot feedback when the program is actually implemented. This ensures that parents, teachers, and/or others
Behavior modification places high value on accountability for
everyone involved in behavior modification programs
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are encouraged to follow the program and receive reinforcement for doing so (see, e.g., Hrydowy
& Martin, 1994). The second aspect of program implementation is introducing it to the client in
a manner that will enhance his or her commitment to the program. It is very important that the
client’s initial contact with the program be highly reinforcing to increase the probability of further
contacts. Questions to consider include: Does the client fully understand and agree with the goals
of the program? Is the client aware of how the program will benefit him or her? Has the mediator
spent sufficient time with the client and interacted in such a way as to gain his or her trust and confidence (see Chapter 20)? Has the program been designed so that the client is likely to experience
some success quickly? Will the client come in contact with reinforcers early in the program? An
affirmative answer to each of these questions greatly increases the chances that the program will be
successful. An affirmative answer to these questions occurred in Cindy’s case. Cindy encountered
frequent positive reinforcement during all training sessions; sessions were initially conducted by the
applied behavior analyst while the parents observed, and the parents later got involved in modeling each task and reinforcing Cindy’s appropriate behavior; Cindy experienced success early in the
program; and successful generalization was both programmed and achieved.
Questions for Learning
8. You are about to design a treatment program. After defining the target behavior and identifying its desired level
of occurrence and stimulus control, what six questions should you answer before proceeding to the design?
9. If you are thinking of capitalizing on antecedent control, what six categories should you consider?
10. If you are decreasing a behavioral excess, what five questions should you ask?
11. List five considerations for programming stimulus generalization.
12. List three considerations for programming response generalization.
13. List four considerations for programming behavior maintenance.
14. What is a behavioral contract?
15. What is a treatment contract, and what should it clearly outline?
16. What five questions should be answered affirmatively to increase the client’s commitment to the program?
program Maintenance and evaluation
Is your program having a satisfactory effect? This is not always an easy question to answer. It is also
not always easy to decide, according to some criterion or other, what to do if the program is not having
a satisfactory effect. We suggest reviewing the following guidelines to assess a program that has been
1. Monitor your data to determine whether the recorded behaviors are changing in the desired direction.
2. Consult the people who must deal with the problem and determine whether they are satisfied with
3. Consult the behavioral journals, professional behavior modifiers, or others with experience in using
similar procedures on similar problems to determine whether your results are reasonable in terms of
the amount of behavior change during the period the program has been in effect.
4. If, on the basis of Guidelines 1, 2, and 3, the results are satisfactory, proceed directly to guideline 8.
5. If, on the basis of Guideline 1, 2, or 3, your results are unsatisfactory, answer the following questions
and make the appropriate adjustment for any yes answer.
a. Have the reinforcers that are being used lost their effectiveness––in other words, has an MAO
occurred with regard to the reinforcers being used?
b. Are competing responses being reinforced?
c. Are the procedures being applied incorrectly?
d. Is outside interference disrupting the program?
e. Are there any subjective variables—staff or client negative attitudes, teacher or client lack of
enthusiasm, and so forth—that might be adversely affecting the program?
6. If none of the answers to these five questions is yes, check to see whether additional programming
steps need to be added or removed. The data may show excessive error rates, which would suggest
the need for additional programming steps. Or they may show very high rates of correct responses,
which might indicate that the program is too easy and that satiation of intrinsic reinforcers or
“boredom” is occurring. Add, remove, or modify steps as necessary.
Ch Apter 24 ▸ Planning, Applying, and Evaluating a Behavioral Program
7. If the results are now satisfactory, proceed to Guideline 8; otherwise consult with a colleague or
consider redesigning a major aspect of the program or redoing a functional assessment to identify
the antecedents and consequences controlling the target behavior.
8. Decide how you will provide appropriate program maintenance until the behavioral objective is
reached (see Chapter 16).
9. Following attainment of the behavioral goal, outline an appropriate arrangement for assessing performance during follow-up observations and assessing social validity (see Chapter 22).
10. After successful follow-up observations have been obtained, determine the costs in terms of time
and finances for the behavior changes that occurred (called a cost-effectiveness analysis).
11. When possible and appropriate, analyze your data and communicate your procedures and results
to other behavior modifiers and interested professionals. Be sure to conceal the client’s identity to
In Cindy’s case, following 13 weekly treatment sessions, Cindy’s father reported that Cindy was no longer
afraid of dogs that she encountered outside of sessions. Seven months post-treatment, when Cindy’s father
was contacted, he indicated that, although Cindy did not have regular contact with dogs, she nevertheless
did not show fear of them when they were encountered.
Questions for Learning
17. After a program has been implemented, what three things should be done to determine whether it is producing
satisfactory results? (See Guidelines 1, 2, and 3.)
18. Describe in detail the steps that should be followed if a program is not producing satisfactory results (see
Guidelines 5, 6, and 7).
19. If a program is producing satisfactory results, what two things should be done prior to successfully terminating
it? (See Guidelines 8 and 9.)
A. exercise Involving Others
Suppose that you are an applied behavior analyst. The mother of a 4-year-old child asks for your help in designing
a program to overcome the child’s extreme disobedience. Construct realistic but hypothetical details of the behavior
problem and take it through all steps in each of the following stages of programming:
Deciding whether you should design a program to treat the problem.
Selecting and implementing an assessment procedure.
Developing strategies of program design and implementation.
Establishing program maintenance and evaluation.
(Note: The problem will have to be fairly complex for you to take it through all the steps in each of these stages.)
Notes for Further Learning
1. Whether you are the appropriate person to deal with a particular problem may be influenced in part by
whether you live in an urban or a rural setting. Rodrigue, Banko, Sears, and Evans (1996) identified a number
of difficulties associated with providing behavior therapy services in rural areas. While rural regions have a
disproportionate number of at-risk populations that are costly to serve (e.g., the elderly, children, minorities), they typically do not offer the full array of needed mental health services and are characterized by lower
availability of and accessibility to specialized services. In other words, while you may not be the ideal person
to treat the problem, you may be the best person available. Before accepting the responsibility of designing a
program in such a case, however, you should consult the relevant literature with regard to the type of setting
for which you have been requested to provide care. For example, a study by Perri et al. (2008) is an excellent
model for providing weight management programs to rural communities. You should also consult the ethical
guidelines for human services of your professional organization. (See also Chapter 30 of this book.)
2. Even if significant others are not necessary to implement a program, their availability can be extremely valuable
for programming generality. Consider the problem of developing effective behavioral weight-loss programs for
children (see LeBow, 1991). Israel, Stolmaker, and Adrian (1985) introduced two groups of overweight children
(from 8 to 12 years of age) to an 8-week intensive, multicomponent, behavioral weight-reduction program.
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The parents of one group were also presented a short course on behavioral child-management skills. At the end
of the 8-week treatment program, both groups of children had lost approximately the same amount of weight.
After a 1-year follow-up, however, maintenance of improved weight status was superior for the children whose
parents had been introduced to the behavioral child-management procedures. Similarly, a number of studies
have shown that parental and spousal support are highly correlated with establishing and maintaining healthy
physical activity (see Biddle & Mutrie, 2008, Table 7.1, p. 141).
Questions for Further Learning
1. How might the geographic setting affect your decision as a behavior modifier to accept a referral?
2. How did Israel and colleagues demonstrate that utilizing significant others in a program can enhance generality?
L e a rning O b jec tiv es
After studying this chapter, you will be able to:
Recall “Erin’s points program” described at the beginning of Chapter 5. Erin wanted to be nicer to her
friends. To motivate herself to do so, she carried an index card and a pen with her and gave herself a point
on the card each time that she said something nice to a friend. That evening, she allowed herself to cash in
her points with time on Facebook or YouTube. The more points she earned, the more time she could enjoy
Facebook or YouTube. Erin’s points were called tokens—conditioned reinforcers that can be accumulated
and exchanged for goods and services (Hackenberg, 2009).
A behavioral program in which individuals can earn tokens for a variety of desirable behaviors and
can exchange the earned tokens for backup reinforcers is called a token economy. Our modern society in
which people perform a variety of jobs to earn money that they exchange for various items such as food,
shelter, clothing, transportation, luxuries, and access to leisure activities is a complex token economy.
A system in which people purchase bus or subway tokens that they exchange for access to public transit
is a somewhat simpler token economy. Token economies are also used as educational and therapeutic
tools in behavior modification programs. According to Hackenberg (2009, p. 280), “Token economies are
among the oldest and most successful programs in all of applied psychology.” Although a token economy
could be set up for an individual, the term token economies generally refers to token systems with groups,
and the term is used that way in this chapter.
Using token reinforcers has two major advantages. First, they can be given immediately after a desirable behavior occurs and cashed in at a later time for a backup reinforcer. Thus they can be used to
“bridge” long delays between the target response and the backup reinforcer, which is especially important
when it is impractical or impossible to deliver the backup reinforcer immediately after the behavior. Second,
tokens that are paired with many different backup reinforcers are generalized conditioned reinforcers and
therefore do not depend on a specific motivating operation for their strength. This makes it easier to administer consistent and effective reinforcers when dealing with a group of individuals who might be in different
Token economies as components of behavioral programs have been used in a variety of settings
with individuals and with groups. They have been used in psychiatric wards, treatment centers and classrooms for persons with developmental disabilities and autism, classrooms for children and teenagers with
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), normal classroom settings ranging from preschool to college and university, homes for troubled children, prisons, the military, wards for the treatment of persons
with drug addiction or alcoholism, nursing homes, and convalescent centers (e.g., see Boniecki & Moore,
2003; Corrigan, 1995; Dickerson, Tenhula, & Green-Paden, 2005; Ferreri, 2013; Filcheck, McNeil, Greco,
& Bernard, 2004; Hackenberg, 2009; Higgins, Silverman, & Heil, 2007; Liberman, 2000; Matson &
Boisjoli, 2009). A token economy has also been used in a behaviorally managed experimental community
of college students (Johnson, Welch, Miller, & Altus, 1991; Thomas & Miller, 1980).
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Techniques used in token economies have also been extended to various community settings to
decrease littering and noise pollution as well as to increase waste recycling, energy conservation, the
use of mass transportation, racial integration, behaviors involved in gaining employment, and self-help
behaviors in people who are disadvantaged by the economic system. In normal family homes, token
economies have been used to control children’s behavior and to treat marital discord. In various work
settings, token economies have been used to increase safety behavior, decrease absenteeism, and enhance
on-the-job performance (Boerke & Reitman, 2011; Kazdin, 1977, 1985).
In this chapter we describe the typical steps used to set up and manage token economies. We will
illustrate many of the steps with reference to Achievement Place, a group home in Lawrence, Kansas.
A very effective token program was developed there for predelinquent youths—boys from 10 to 16 years
of age—who were from difficult home environments and were referred by the courts for committing
minor crimes such as petty theft and fighting. That program uses what is termed the Teaching-Family
Model (TFM) in which four to eight individuals live with a married couple in a large domestic home.
Major features of the TFM include:
1. a token economy in which participants earn points for appropriate social behaviors, academic
performance, and daily living skills and exchange them for privileges such as snacks, television,
hobbies, games, allowance, and permission to participate in activities away from the home
2. a self-government system in which the youth participate in the development of daily living rules
and the management of the program
3. ongoing evaluation of the performance of the participants
Developed in the early 1970s, the TFM has been extended to a variety of settings, such as homes,
schools, and the community at large, across the United States and Canada, and to a variety of individuals, such as children who are emotionally disturbed, individuals with autism or developmental disabilities, and youth in treatment foster care due to prior abuse or neglect. Although further research is
needed to develop strategies for long-term maintenance of gains achieved by individuals who participate
in TFM programs, the model has been demonstrated to be an effective approach for the treatment of a
variety of problems (Bernfeld, 2006; Bernfeld, Blase, & Fixsen, 2006; Braukmann & Wolf, 1987; Fixsen,
Blasé, Timbers, & Wolf, 2007; Underwood, Talbott, Mosholder, & von Dresner, 2008).
Questions for Learning
What are tokens?
What is a token economy?
What are two major advantages to using tokens as reinforcers?
List at least five settings in which token economies have been used.
List at least five behaviors that token economies have been designed to develop.
In a sentence, describe the type of individual whom Achievement Place was designed to help.
Steps for Setting Up and Managing a token economy
Decide on the target Behaviors
Target behaviors are determined largely by (a) the type of individuals involved, (b) the short- and longrange objectives to be accomplished, and (c) specific behavioral problems that interfere with achieving
those objectives. For example, if you are a classroom teacher, your target behaviors for students might
include specific aspects of reading, writing, mathematics, or constructive social interaction. Your target
behaviors must be clearly defined so that the students know what behaviors are expected of them and
so that you can reinforce those behaviors reliably when they occur. Thus, one of your target behaviors
might be sitting quietly when the teacher gives instructions. A more advanced target behavior might be
correctly completing 10 addition problems.
At the original Achievement Place TFM (Phillips, 1968) described previously, target behaviors for
the predelinquent youth were selected in social, self-care, and academic areas that were considered to
be important to the youths both while they were at Achievement Place and in future environments
when they left the group home. Both desirable and undesirable behaviors were identified. Two
examples of desirable behaviors were doing dishes (which earned up to 1000 points per meal), and
C h A Pter 25 ▸ Token Economies
performing homework (which earned up to 500 points per day). Two examples of undesirable behaviors were disobeying (which cost from 100 to 1000 points per response), and using poor grammar
(which cost from 20 to 50 points per response).
take Baselines and Keep Data
As is done before initiating other procedures, baseline data on the specific target behaviors should be
obtained before initiating a token economy. It might be that your group is already performing at a satisfactory level and that the potential benefits to be gained from setting up a token economy do not justify
the time, effort, or cost involved in doing so. After the program has been started, continuing to collect
data on the target behaviors and comparing the data with the baseline data will enable you to determine
the program’s effectiveness.
Select the type of tokens to Use
Tokens can include play money, marks on a wall chart, poker chips, stickers or stamps, or numerous
other possibilities that will suit the needs of your particular token economy. In general, tokens should
be attractive, lightweight, portable, durable, easy to handle, and, of course, not easily counterfeited
(Figure 25.1). If automatic dispensers of backup reinforcement are used, you should ensure that your
tokens will operate those devices. You should also ensure that you have an adequate number of tokens.
For example, Stainback, Payne, Stainback, and Payne (1973) suggested that you should have on hand
about 100 tokens per child when starting a token economy in a classroom.
You should also acquire the necessary accessories for handling and storing tokens. For example,
schoolchildren might need pencil boxes or resealable storage bags in which to store the tokens they
Tokens should not be easily counterfeited