Generalized conditioned reinforcement with pigeons in a token economy

Anthony Defulio, Rachelle Yankelevitz, Christopher Bullock, Timothy D. Hackenberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Six pigeons were studied in a token economy in which tokens could be produced and exchanged for food on one side of an experimental chamber and for water on the opposite side of the chamber. Responses on one key produced tokens according to a token-production fixed ratio (FR) schedule. Responses on a second key produced an exchange period during which tokens were exchanged for water or food. In Experiment 1a, food tokens could be earned and exchanged under restricted food budgets, and water tokens could be earned and exchanged under water restricted budgets. In Experiment 1b, a third (generalized) token type could be earned and exchanged for either food or water under water restricted budgets. Across Experiments 1a and 1b, the number of tokens accumulated prior to exchange increased as the exchange-production schedule was increased. In Experiment 1b, pigeons produced more generalized than specific tokens, suggesting enhanced reinforcing efficacy of generalized tokens. In Experiment 2, the FR token-production price was manipulated under water restriction and then under food restriction. Production of each token type generally declined as a function of its own price and increased as a function of the price of the alternate type, demonstrating own-price and cross-price elasticity. Production of food and water tokens often changed together, indicating complementarity. Production of specific and generalized tokens changed in opposite directions, indicating substitutability. This is the first demonstration of sustained generalized functions of tokens in nonhumans, and illustrates a promising method for exploring economic contingencies in a controlled environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-46
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2014


  • Behavioral economics
  • Elasticity
  • Pigeons
  • Token reinforcement
  • Water reinforcers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • General Medicine


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