Operant Conditioning: Token Economy – MCAT Psychology | MedSchoolCoach

Operant Conditioning: Token Economy

MCAT Psychology - Chapter 5- Section 1 - Learning - Associative Learning
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Sample MCAT Question - Operant Conditioning: Token Economy

Which of the following is true about rewards in a token economy?

a) They are primary reinforcers.

b) They are secondary reinforcers.

c) They can be exchanged for tokens.

d) They are objects or symbols.

A is correct. Rewards are materialistic prizes, services, or privileges. They are primary reinforcers because they have inherent value. Answer choice B is incorrect because rewards have inherent reinforcing value, unlike secondary reinforcers. Answer choice C is incorrect because even though tokens can be exchanged for rewards, rewards are not exchanged for tokens. Answer choice D is incorrect because rewards are not objects or symbols. Instead, they have innate reinforcing qualities.

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Token Economy - What You Need to Know for the MCAT

Operant conditioning is a psychological concept that explores how behavior is shaped through the consequences that follow it. One specific application of operant conditioning is the token economy system. Token economy refers to a behavior modification technique where individuals are rewarded with tokens or points for exhibiting desired behaviors. These tokens can then be exchanged for various incentives or privileges. By employing this system, the aim is to encourage and reinforce positive behaviors while discouraging negative ones. Token economy has been widely utilized in various settings, including schools, psychiatric facilities, and rehabilitation centers, as it provides a structured framework for promoting positive change and shaping behavior in a systematic and effective manner.

Token Economy

A token economy is a system used for reinforcing target behaviors based on the principles of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a type of learning through which the behaviors of individuals is shaped and strengthened through rewards and punishments.


A token economy has three elements. First, there are tokens, which are objects or symbols that can be exchanged for rewards. Tokens are an example of a secondary reinforcer, because they are not intrinsically rewarding, but which can be exchanged for rewards, which may be primary reinforcers. Second, there are rewards, which include materialistic prizes, services, or privileges that have inherent reinforcing value. Finally, there are target behaviors, which are behaviors that participants can perform in order to receive tokens.


For example, consider a classroom where a teacher gives students stickers for answering questions. These stickers can, in turn, be traded in for snacks. The stickers serve as tokens, snacks are rewards, and answering questions is a target behavior.

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