Theses Doctoral

Application of Behavioral Economics to Education

Kim, Ji Young

Behavioral economics concepts can advance understanding, predicting, and controlling complex human behavior. Although there have been numerous attempts to apply behavioral economics concepts to applied settings, there are a limited number of experiments conducted in educational settings. The purpose of the studies in this paper is a to apply well-grounded scientific findings in behavioral economics to education to advance our understanding of teaching and learning and to develop cost-effective interventions.

Study 1 (Kim et al., 2021) was a systematic review and meta-analysis on 24 token economy studies conducted in general and special education classrooms from kindergarten to 5th grade between 2000 and 2019. Eight token economy components and effect sizes were identified for each study and compared across different classroom types. The results showed that the token economy intervention yielded large effect sizes for both general and special education classroom types. There were differences in the usage of token components including backup reinforcer types, token production rate, and exchange production rate based on classroom types.

In Study 2, the researchers conducted two experiments to develop a rapid, user-friendly assessment of delay discounting for educators interested in quantifying sensitivity to reward delays for school-aged children. The first experiment reanalyzed data collected by Reed and Martens (2011) and found that 1-month delay choices predicted student classroom behavior. The second experiment investigated the utility of the 1-month delay indifference point in predicting saving and spending behavior of second-grade students using token economies with two different token production schedules. Collectively, results showed that the 1-month delay indifference point predicted classroom behavior and children who discounted less and had greater self-regulation, accrued and saved more tokens.

In Study 3, the researchers investigated the effects of a classwide progressive delay training procedure on students’ advantageous choice-making behavior, which is the behavior of selecting a larger, delayed outcome over a smaller, immediately available reinforcer. The intervention used progressive delay, which refers to incrementally increasing the temporal delay for a more delayed, advantageous outcome, and choice-making opportunities to promote second grade students’ choice of a larger reinforcer associated with a delay. The results showed mixed results – the intervention was effective at increasing advantageous choice-making behavior for students performing on and below grade-level for math, but the effects were not shown in students performing above grade-level.

Study 4 further examined the educational importance of delayed consequences by determining the relationship between verbal behavior repertoires, delay discounting, and academic achievement. Specifically, the researchers used the degree of Incidental-Bidirectional Naming (Inc-BiN) for verbal behavior, degree of tolerance to delayed consequences using hypothetical binary choices involving money for delay discounting, and standardized math and reading scores for academic achievement. The results showed that participants with greater degree of Inc-BiN had significantly greater tolerance for delayed consequences. However, there was no relation found between academic achievement and delay discounting or Inc-BiN. Together, the four studies in this paper successfully (1) translated basic behavioral economics research findings to educational settings and (2) investigated methods that maximize efficiency and effectiveness of practices and tools used in classrooms.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Fienup, Daniel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 27, 2022