Basic Rules for Applied Behavior Analysts from Allyon & Azrin's, The Token Economy

This list of rules and procedures below is taken directly from Allyon and Azrin's important book, The Token Economy: A Motivational System for Therapy and Rehabilitation (Prentice-Hall, 1968). The Token Economy describes the application of behavioral principles to the behavior problems of adult patients diagnosed with mental illnesses in a large institutional setting. The token reinforcement and contingency management system was much more effective for establishing functional independent living skills in the residents of the institution than the psychiatric methods previously employed.


Despite being developed almost 40 years ago, these rules and procedures may still be applied with good results in almost any applied behavior analysis setting. For more information, please refer to the sections indexed by the page number after each rule.

  1. Dimensions of Behavior Rule: Describe the behavior in specific terms that require a minimum of interpretation. (p. 36)
  2. Target Behavior Rule: Describe the desired performance in behavioral terms. (p. 47)
  3. Relevance of Behavior Rule: Teach only those behaviors that will continue to be reinforced after training. (p. 49)
  4. Probability of Behavior Rule: Observe what the individual does when the opportunity exists. Those activities that are very probable at a given time will serve as reinforcers. (p. 60)
  5. Verbal Request Rule: Act immediately upon every verbal request for a reinforcer. (p. 68)
  6. Variation of Reinforcement Rule: Use many variations of a known reinforcer to discover new ones. (p. 72)
  7. Conditioned Reinforcement Rule: Provide a distinctive and tangible stimulus event to bridge any delay between the desired response and the delivery of the reinforcer. (p. 77)
  8. Compatibility of Reinforcers Rule: Schedule reinforcing activities so that they can occur at different times. (p. 85)
  9. Reinforcer Sampling Rule: Before using an event or stimulus as a reinforcer, require sampling of the reinforcer in the situation in which it is to be used. (p. 91)
  10. Reinforcer Exposure Rule: At the moment of reinforcer availability, display all of the stimuli that typically occur during reinforcer utilization; if possible, the have the individual observe another individual actively utilizing the reinforcer. (p. 105)
  11. Behavior-Effect Rule: Arrange the situation so that the behavior produces some enduring change in the physical environment. (p. 127)
  12. Time and Place Rule: Specify the time and place of the response occurrence and the reinforcer delivery. (p. 133)
  13. Individual Responsibility Rule: Assign one and only individual to act as the reinforcing agent for a given occasion. (p. 136)
  14. Dimension of Reinforcement Rule: Specify in physical terms as many dimensions of the reinforcer as possible. (p. 140)
  15. Automated Reinforcement Procedure: Use automated means to deliver and record the reinforcing event whenever possible. (p. 140)
  16. Direct Supervision Rule: Provide systematic and direct observation of the reinforcement procedure. (p. 145)
  17. Procedure for Multiple Reinforcing Agents: Use different individuals to implement the delivery of reinforcement. (p. 154)
  18. Recipient of Reinforcement Procedure: Use the report of the recipient of the reinforcer as an additional check on the reinforcement interaction. (p. 157)
  19. Response Shaping Rule: In developing a desired response chain, begin by reinforcing an existing response that that has a component relation to the target behavior; then reinforce variations of the component that are in the direction of the target behavior. (p. 162)
  20. The Prompting-Shaping Rule: In developing a desired response chain, begin by prompting verbally and reinforcing an existing response that has a component relation to the target behavior; then prompt verbally and reinforce variations of the component that are in the direction of the target behavior. (p. 169)
  21. Response Exposure Rule: Have the learner observe another individual perform the desired response. (p. 181)
  22. Response Sampling Rule: Require the individual to perform at least the initial portions of the desired response. (p. 184)
  23. Job Rotation Rule: A patient should not be allowed to hold the same job without interruption for more than a week at a time. (p. 200)

Behavior Analysis Association of Michigan, Department of Psychology, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197