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Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

The History and Evolution of Behavioral Approaches and Positive Behavioral Interventions

Derrick Dufresne

Use of Food and Tokens as Reinforcers

Derrick Dufresne: Now, I don't know who thought of the idea of giving people M&Ms, but if you give somebody 200 M&Ms in a day, you're gonna have another behavior you're going to be dealing with later on in the day. But food was used… not money, but we had these things called tokens, and I can still picture them. They looked like plastic popsicle sticks with holes in either end. And they were various colors. And what would happen is… and I look back at it now and I said this was so bizarre, but you don't get it when you're in the middle of it.

So what would happen is… is, if you were sitting there and you were having good in-seat behavior, I'd give you a token. And I'd tell you, "Five tokens makes a Coke. You get to have a Coke." So next thing I didn't realize you've done is, I've got you perseverating on, "When am I going to get my Coke? When am I going to get my Coke? When am I going to get my Coke?"

So I'm building your anxiety. But I have to have good in-seat behavior. So for every minute you sit, you get a token. And after 5 minutes, you get 5 tokens, and 5 tokens equals a Coke. There's only one problem with that. Now what happens is you're thinking about the Coke, and you want the Coke right now, because most people when you want it, you want it. So what starts to happen is after 2 minutes you get up out of your chair. And I say "Well, you lose a token." So I take the token away from you.

Well, they never taught us that when you take a token away, you piss people off. So now you sit down on the chair and I say "We have to earn the token again, cuz you need five tokens," so you start back in. But the clock starts over cuz you got up out of your chair.

What ends up happening is that after about four minutes, you're now steaming. You're internally hemorrhaging. You're ready to come out of that chair at me, and I see you start to come up and I think I'm going to intervene by trying to come over and say, "Let's work on this," and you hit me. Now when you hit me, the book said you lose three tokens.

So we go through this whole thing. Now you were supposed to get a token every minute and you're supposed to get your pop after five minutes. No one ever told me that a five-minute program would turn into 42 minutes. So now we've delayed gratification, you're hungry, you're frustrated, you're angry, and now, after I give you the token that would be the fifth token, because you're supposed to lose a token, I have to give you the token and take it away, which means now you have to understand the concept of deficit spending.

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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001MNSCDD-03, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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