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Token Economy: Examples & Applications in ABA

A token economy is a procedure that was developed to help reduce maladaptive behaviors and increased desire behaviors by providing a tangible conditioned reinforcer.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 15, 2023
min read

What is a Token Economy?

A token economy is a procedure that was developed to help reduce maladaptive behaviors and increased desire behaviors by providing a tangible conditioned reinforcer.

It is important to note that a generalized conditioned reinforcer is not required to be a tangible item.

Still, in regards to a token economy, the generalized conditioned reinforcer does have to use tangible and visual representation for it to work.

Tokens in a token economy are individualized based on the preference of the learner, which is what makes it a viable strategy.

A simple example of a token in a token economy might be a sticker or Lego pieces.

Examples of Token Economy in ABA

The tokens used in a token economy can either be visual or tangible. For instance, say the backup reinforcer is to get a cell phone. The professional could use a simple token board to encourage the learner's progress.

What is a token board? A token board is a visual representation of tokens that the learner has earned towards their backup reinforcer, in this example the cell phone. 

The board would show what they are working for, a picture of a cell phone, and then a block for every token needed to get the reinforcer.

Once each of the blocks has been filled in with the picture of an earned token, the learner would gain access to their backup reinforcer. The token board can even be a premade animated version that can be viewed via a smartphone, computer, or tablet.

This can help with learners who love technology and help to keep their interest on task while getting to their backup reinforcer.

Types of Token Economies

When it comes to token economies, there are several types that a professional might choose to use. Here are a few of the different types that have proven useful to ABA professionals.

Simple Token Systems

Simple token systems provide visuals or tangible tokens that allow a learner to work towards a backup reinforcer.

Jar System

This system is best used when the learner already has a concept of what a token economy is. Jar systems are best used when the backup reinforcer is a larger one that will take time for the learner to gain access to.

More Complex Token Systems

Complex token systems are used when a professional or parent wishes to award reinforcers for multiple behaviors. Each behavior should have its own token area so the learner will be able to tell the difference between the behaviors and the reinforcers for each.

Pros and Cons of Token Economies

Just like with most systems, there are pros and cons that professionals need to consider when considering using a token economy with one of their learners. Here are some of the most prominent pros and cons that should be considered and weighed.


Keeps learners engaged. - When working with children, professionals have to understand that children can become bored with reinforcers that they receive all the time. The token economy system is designed to not only be fun but help reduce the number of times the child can receive the backup reinforcer.

Teaches a real-world concept. - When using a token economy, the learner is taught that the tokens have value, and this can collate to the world economy, and it can help them to understand the value of money when they are older.

Teaches delayed gratification. - Due to it taking time for the child to receive access to the backup reinforcer, a token economy will teach patience and the need to work towards a goal.

Is consistent. - Unlike other forms of reinforcement, a token economy is designed as a consistent way of working towards a backup reinforcer while reinforcing behavior consistently.


Learners could become frustrated or lose interest. - It is important to make sure that the learner understands the value of the tokens they are earning because if this is not accomplished, they could be frustrated or lose interest in the backup reinforcer.

Tokens don't have innate value. - Some learners struggle with the concept of the token's value, and this could frustrate the student and cause them to struggle throughout the token economy process.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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