This month, we are delighted to introduce Vaishali Raval, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the Department of Psychology at Miami University, Ohio. Dr. Raval received her PhD in clinical developmental psychology from University of Windsor and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cultural psychology and human development at the University of Chicago. Her research interests involve understanding parenting, socio-emotional development, and child psychopathology in a cultural context, with a particular focus on Asians and Asian Americans. She is developing a new line of research in global mental health, with a recently funded project on developing training models for culturally competent and evidence-based mental health care in diverse societies.
We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew them to do work on Asians,Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to them in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in their area.
A combination of graduate level coursework and personal experiences of living in two distinct cultures led me to my research interests that center on culture and contexts of mental health and development. As an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto taking courses in developmental and abnormal psychology, I often wondered how the theories and research I was learning about fit with (or did not fit with) my observations of human behavior and familial interactions while growing up in a metropolitan city in India. My graduate studies at the University of Windsor provided me with a conceptual framework to understand why and when my observations of human behavior in the cultural context of India did not fit with the research generated primarily in North America. In particular, three graduate level courses– cultural psychology, developmental psychopathology, and qualitative methods — challenged me to think about and study human development in a different way. The developmental psychopathology framework made sense to me given the focus on contexts of development, trajectories of development, and constructs such as multifinality that allowed for the possibility of multiple outcomes associated with similar risk factors. Learning about emic approaches to understanding people within a context and the value of mixed-methods in cultural research further added to my research toolkit. During my postdoc at the University of Chicago, I learned the value of interdisciplinary work, particularly the nuanced ways to conceptualize culture and person from the perspectives of cultural and medical anthropology. I also came across Ruth Chao’s research, and her 1994 and 1995 articles (in Child Development and Ethos, respectively) about the relevance of Chiao Shun in Chinese childrearing were particularly influential as they provided excellent examples of studies informed by emic approach.
In psychology, we learn about how to understand research, conduct research, and use it to inform policy and practice, as well as our own day-to-day decisions. I would like to think that the relationship between people’s life experiences and social science research is bidirectional, and so my advice for students is to allow yourself to question the applicability of the research you read to diverse populations based on your own experiences, and to use your life experiences to guide research.
We also asked scholars to describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it. Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other understudied populations; d) practice or policy relevance.
My major program of research has focused on understanding cultural differences in how parents socialize their children’s emotions, and how the socialization approaches relate to child functioning. Studies that utilize White American middle-class samples have consistently shown that parental emotion- or problem-focused responses to children’s emotions (e.g., that involve comforting the child, problem-solving with them) are associated with most adaptive child outcomes. Across a number of studies utilizing urban middle-class families from India, we have found that when children experience negative emotions, Indian mothers are most likely to respond with an explanation-oriented approach frequently described as “making the child understand” that aims to enhance acceptance of the situation (Raval and Martini, 2011 in Journal of Family Psychology). Unlike emotion- and problem-focused responses, this culturally salient response does not focus on the emotion nor does it aim to resolve the situation, and in one study, it was associated with adaptive child outcomes in Indian families, while problem-focused responses were unrelated (Raval et al., 2014 in Journal of Early Adolescence). These findings are important because they expand the range of emotion socialization responses we as researchers study to include approaches that may be more salient in diverse families.
Experiences with Asian Caucus
I have been a member of the Asian caucus for the past several years and served as the co-chair of junior scholars’ committee in 2010-11. I have really appreciated being a part of the caucus, as I have been able to meet with prominent researchers who work with Asian and Asian American populations at SRCD meetings, and learn about the work of many more through this new initiative of researcher spotlight. The caucus also provides a great forum for mentoring, and I look forward to my continued involvement.
I will be presenting a really exciting talk at the biennial meeting of International Association of Cross-Cultural Psychology in Nagoya, Japan this summer, describing the findings of a content analysis of narratives of racial identity and race relations across individuals from diverse racial and ethnic groups in USA. What I am most proud of is that this started as an undergraduate research project led by a student in my lab and has expanded into a full-fledged study that we are preparing to submit for publication.