Token reinforcement: A review and analysis


Token reinforcement procedures and concepts are reviewed and discussed in relation to general principles of behavior. The paper is divided into four main parts. Part I reviews and discusses previous research on token systems in relation to common behavioral functions—reinforcement, temporal organization, antecedent stimulus functions, and aversive control—emphasizing both the continuities with other contingencies and the distinctive features of token systems. Part II describes the role of token procedures in the symmetrical law of effect, the view that reinforcers (gains) and punishers (losses) can be measured in conceptually analogous terms. Part III considers the utility of token reinforcement procedures in cross-species analysis of behavior more generally, showing how token procedures can be used to bridge the methodological gulf separating research with humans from that with other animals. Part IV discusses the relevance of token systems to the field of behavioral economics. Token systems have the potential to significantly advance research and theory in behavioral economics, permitting both a more refined analysis of the costs and benefits underlying standard economic models, and a common currency more akin to human monetary systems. Some implications for applied research and for broader theoretical integration across disciplines will also be considered. Key words: token reinforcement, conditioned reinforcement, symmetrical law of effect, cross-species analysis, behavioral economics _______________________________________________________________________________ A token is an object or symbol that is exchanged for goods or services. Tokens, in the form of clay coins, first appeared in human history in the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural societies, and the expansion from simple barter economies to more complex economies (Schmandt-Bes-serat, 1992). Since that time, token systems, in one form or another, have provided the basic economic framework for all monetary transac-tions. From the supermarket to the stock market, any economic system of exchange involves some form of token reinforcement. Token systems have been successfully em-ployed as behavior-management and motiva-tional tools in educational and rehabilitative settings since at least the early 1800s (se

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