The way parents’ beliefs on child development support the elaboration of practical inferences during everyday child-rearing episodes was examined. We contrasted two models based respectively on the classical and the connectionist view of schema approaches. According to the classical view, parents activate preformed packages of beliefs in order to produce inferences whereas under the connectionist view, they activate the network of interconnected episodic traces that better fits the information provided by the situation. In the former case, the quality of the inferences depends on the activation of the proper schema whereas in the latter case it depends on the structure of the information given.
Two experiments were designed in which parents holding a particular global belief about child development (either constructivism or environmentalism), were presented with a target couple with similar or different views with respect to them. In Experiment 1, constructivist parents bearing in mind the couple’s belief had to judge a set of words describing the couple’s image as parents, their educational goals as well as a number of sentences describing the couple’s child-rearing practices during hypothetical episodes. In Experiment 2, environmentalist parents had to judge the couple’s practices and the amount of information presented about the couple’s ideas as well as its plausibility were manipulated. The results indicate that the accuracy and speed in the production of inferences depends on the information presented in the task. When the information is embedded in episodes and a full, plausible and distinctive account of the couple’s belief are provided, then the production of inferences is performed faster and with more accuracy. The results are discussed in terms of the classical and connectionist views of schema approaches.