Monday, August 1, 2011

A token economy can change teacher behaviors rather than students?

Many studies have shown that token rewards can improve behavior in students who receive them, but did you know they can also improve the behavior of the teacher who delivers them? (See Mandelker, Brigham, and Bushell (1970, p. 169).

The procedure of delivering tokens to students who did good work caused a teacher to interact more with the group. Mandelker, Brigham, and Bushell (1970) contrasted the experimental conditions of three children who received tokens for correct handwriting responses to three children who received them non-contingently, at the beginning of the sessions regardless of how well they performed. She had twenty-one years experience. They told her to teach as she normally did, but with the addition of the token economy. She made more verbal statements to the group who earned tokens for good work than she made to the group who got them upfront.

They all cashed in their tokens for "a variety of activities such as gym, special games, walks, stories, and a cookie at snack time (p. 170)."

Mandelker, Brigham, and Bushell (p. 171-2) provided two possible explanations for the improved teacher behavior. Perhaps the tokens were a stimuli that exerted control over her attending behavior and she was avoiding the unpleasant experience of excluding a student from the backup reinforcement activities. Or maybe she was attending to more good responses by the experimental group which had increased on account of the contingent reinforcement.

In the typical applications of applied behavior analysis people with more power change the behavior of people with less power, but this blog is ultimately about changing the behavior of people with the most power, politicians, for instance.

B.F. Skinner, the founder of the science, spoke about control and counter-control by major forces in society. Wealth, poverty, religion, democracy, technology, education, and immigration all interact in tandem. In this small study we can see students changing the behavior of a teacher. To what extent do we as a people influence over our elected representatives?


Mandelker, A.V., Brigham, T.A., and Bushell, D. (1970). The effects of token procedures on a teacher's social contacts with her students [Electronic Abstract]. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 3, 169174. Retrieved August 1, 2011 from the U.S. National Institutes of Health PubMed Central database Web site:

Photograph taken with permission from Wikimedia Commons

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