Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development

pp 1493-1493

Token Economies

  • James K. LuiselliAffiliated withThe May Institute, Inc.


Conditioned reinforcement; Motivational system; Secondary reinforcement


Token economies are based on learning principles derived from operant psychology, specifically secondary positive reinforcement, and have the objective of increasing and supporting desirable child behaviors.


A token is any inanimate object such as a coin, mark on a piece of paper, ticket, or sticker. By themselves, tokens do not have intrinsic value. However, when paired (conditioned) with pleasurable consequences, tokens acquire reinforcing properties. For example, parents might give their 10-year-old son poker chips each time he completes assigned household chores. By allowing the child to exchange his earned poker chips for favorite objects and activities (e.g., watching television, purchasing a toy), the poker chips will function as positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is defined as a consequence following behavior which increases the future prob ...

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