Friday, August 3, 2012

Reinforcement Programs: Token Economies

I'm reading Stephen Ray Flora's The Power of Reinforcement and will be blogging abut the ideas that I find interesting while I read it. First up is token economies.

When I say "token" do images of kids exchanging tickets in video arcades and chuck-e-cheese come to mind? If you do then you understand the idea of a token economy. These are often successful businesses because of the high amount of reinforcement used to keep customers. Why do we spend $20, $30 to exchange 12 tickets for a pack of sour gummies and a spider ring and be perfectly fine with it? Because of the high amount of reinforcement during our stay. My brothers used to hang out at our local video arcade every chance they got to spend their allowance. My brothers are encouraged to spend money on game coins because of the resulting consequence of getting to play the games -which is both intrinsically and positively reinforcing- and they are encouraged to play certain games more often and with a higher score to receive even more reinforcement in the form of game tickets, which are the "token" part in this token economy. The tickets have no actual value of course, but act more like a contract. We are willing to hand out that $15-$30 dollars for an hour of fun because the amount of reinforcement is well worth it to us.

So token economies are a system of reinforcement, which means we use it to create, maintain or increase behavior. The creation of spending time and energy at a video arcade is made by a token economy. The maintenance of coming to work is based on a token economy. And the increase in the amount of time studying is based on a token economy at Sylvan Learning Centers.

At Sylvan tokens are awarded based on academic performance such as test taking speed and accuracy, and studying behaviors. Tokens  can be traded for movie tickets, games, balls, CD's  or many other goodies. Businesses in the coal mining industry also use tokens to take charge of increasing safety behaviors in their workers. Which protecting lives is undeniably important. Even at my workplace token are awarded based on our team's effort in increasing sales and speed of customer service.

Economies like this can also be used to embed social and grooming behaviors in "delinquent" adolescents.  As Flora states:
"Tokes are taken away for anti-social behaviors or socially innapropriate behaviors such as fighting, lying, or using bad grammar. Tokens are exchanged for backup reinforcers such as snacks, TV time, allowance...As appropriate behavior is trapped by the natural  reinforcers of appropriate behavior (better grades, increased positive social interaction, etc.) the contrived reinforcement is faded out. Juveniles go forma daily point system, to a weekly points system to a merit system where points (tokens) are not used...juviniles' grades and school attendance goes up, criminal offenses, police, and court interactions go down. (Flora p. 35)"
If token economies work so well, perhaps I should try it out on myself when studying this semester...

Copyright 2013 Caitlin Bird
The Sequential Psittacine Blog
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