دكتر مهرناز شهرآراي
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Psychology in Iran
Dr. Mehrnaz Shahraray
Deputy Director of the Iranian Psychological Association
Professor, Tarbiat Moallem University, Tehran

by Zinat Esbati

A warm and pleasant welcoming by Dr. Mehrnaz Shahraray, feeling spring in atmosphere of her beautiful place, and being greeted by pansy flowers in conservatory, make you at home.

I knew her by reading her books, and studies. And maybe you agree with me that it is not enough to know someone. There was a remarkable virtue in her behavioure that arrested my attention, though. She was very organized in talking. I enjoyed listening to her ideas. When I backed home, and wanted to download the voice file of the interview with her, I found out something terrible had happened: the file was empty! I was so embarrassed, and did not want to miss her interview. I called her, and her words had a soothing effect on me: this thing happens, we will repeat the interview". Her virtuous reaction to what had happened learnt me about her.
You can now know her through reading the following interview held in English.

Why did you decide to study psychology? How did you make the decision?
I was interested in psychology from the very early years of adolescence. I think this was partly due to the fact that I had started my identity development process and I was interested in getting to know myself and my goals in life. I felt that this could be achieved through psychology. In additions to that, I was very eager to help others and one of the ways that I thought I can do this was through knowing more about myself and others. Again, I believed that this could be achieved by knowing more about psychology.

How did you become interested in studying psychology? Did you study something else before? If yes, why did you switch to psychology?
Although I was very interested in psychology, I did not choose that as my field of study at the university level. I had a chemistry teacher in high school, and he told me that I have a lot of talent in chemistry and that I should resume my studies in this field. When I went to New York at the age of 21, I went to Queens College with the idea of majoring in chemistry. I took about 15 units of chemistry. After that I moved to Los Angeles. In the first year at Mount San Antonio College, I took my first psychology class: Introduction to Psychology. In the midst of the semester, my professor, who I admired very much, told me: I know you are going to get chemistry major, but I think you are more capable in working with people that with objects. You can be a great psychologist. I thought about that for few weeks and the next semester, I changed my major to Psychology. I am very happy I did that. My professor had a lot of insight about me.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not doing psychology?
I love to read. Walking gives me time for reflection. I enjoy gardening because I love to be close to nature. You can see my small garden. I also exercise and interact with friends and family members. I try to create a balance between private time and time with others.

Where did you study at university, and when?
I received my BS in Psychology from University of California in Los Angeles in 1972,MA in Psychology from California State University in Los Angeles in 1973,and Ph. D. in Education with a major in Child Development from UCLA in 1977.

What professors did you study with in graduate school?
I was very fortunate to work with a number of respected professors especially while I was studying at UCLA for my Bachelor degree and Ph.D.
Included among these I can think about Dr. Richard Shavelson with whom I took my statistic class. I was fortunate to work with Dr. Norma Feshback in a number of occasions. My early interest in empathy and its develpment as well as its problems are a result of what I learned from her. I took a class in counseling with Dr. Garth Sorenson and I learned what it means to be a humanistically oriented psychologist. I worked with Dr. David OShea as a research assistant in the field of social education. He gave me a macro level understanding of education.

What was the topic of your PhD dissertation?
It was:Mother-child interaction as a function of acculturation: A comparative analysis of Iranian in Iran, and in the United States.

How has your research and teaching changed since you began as a professor? If yes, in what ways?
As a student, I was interested in socialization and acculturation with special emphasis on the processes, the outcomes and the problems.
My interest after I became a professor has been along the same lines in addition to new areas. The issues and problems of acculturation as they relate to different groups (gender, ethnic and religious groups) continue to be a viable area of interest. Issues of personal identity development and its challenges are newer areas of interest.
I have also been interested in womens studies with an orientation toward motivation and epistemology as perceived by women.
The change in my research interest has been a function of my own growth and development as well as issues that have gained more salience with time.

What do you think are the most important contributions to psychology in the past 50 years?
I think the most important contributions to psychology include the following:
More attention to the question of context. Move to a more contextual perspective (putting the person back into his/her context), which gives a more realistic conceptualization of human beings, and their relationship with their environment.

A theoretical orientation toward the holistic view instead of the more reductionistic perspective.

A move toward a relational versus split theoretical orientation especially in developmental psychology.

What do you think are the most important questions in psychology that you would like to see answered in the next 50 years?
I think the most important questions are issues concerning with collaboration, and cooperation of human beings at the global level.
The issue of peace and its conceptualization and actualization is important both as a practical and research issue. I think peace with its multifaceted dimensions intra psychic, inter-personal and meta-personal- needs to gain more salience in the next 50 years not only as a research problem but as practical issues that affects all aspects of our lives.
Political acculturation should become an important area of study throughout the world. I also think that we need to concentrate on ways or life styles that will optimize and humanize living in an interdependent context.

How would you like to see Iranian psychology evolve in the next 50 years?
In addition to seeing more contextual research in Iran, I would like to see a close collaboration and sharing of thoughts and insights among Iranian psychologists, and psychologists throughout the world. I strongly believe that collaboration is a great mean and process in enriching our minds and in bringing our hearts closer to one another.
I also think we need to conduct more applied research in Iran to get a better understanding of the social, cultural and political issues and their relationship to our context.
We need to work diligently on the codes of ethics in Iran. Work should be done not only on the more universal aspects of such codes but also on the more culturally specific codes of ethics. I have been doing some work in this area in the last few years and feel that there is a lot of work that we need to do in the future. I would like to see the applications of such codes in all areas of psychology especially in teaching, research, therapeutic work and supervision.

How do you think Iranian psychology is similar to Western psychology? How do you think it is different?
Iranian psychology is similar to Western psychology along a number of dimensions: Both are interested in understanding human being and their relationship with nature, and society. Both want to describe, explain, predict,
Prevent problem behaviours and change behaviour.
The differences are in their conceptualization of person or self. Their views about what is an acceptable self in Iran and in the West .As it is clear from the researches done by Marus,Kitayama, Triandis,Hofstede as well as others, the Western notion of the self as an entity containing significant dispositional attributes and as detached from context is not the same notion that exist in Iranian psychology today. Although Iran is moving toward amore individualistic cultural orientation, the self is still viewed as interdependent with the surrounding context. Actually, it is accepted that the other or the self-in-relation to other is of focal importance in individual
A consequence of this divergence in self-construct is seen in psychological processes, including cognition, emotion, and motivation, and has important psychological implications. Actually I believe that the view one holds of the self is critical in understanding individual behaviour as well as the full nature of those phenomena that implicate the self.
I believe how the self is constructed may be a powerful theoretical element and this is an area that deserves more work in the future.
Although there are differences in terms of how the self is constructed, I believe quite strongly that in the world today, we need to concentrate on the similarities and be sensitive, open and tolerant of the differences. Differences can enrich our lives, if we learn to look at them objectively and positively.

What do you think are the biggest strengths of Iranian psychology? What can Iranian psychology teach to psychologists in the West?
Considering that the conceptualization of the self, of other and a relationship in
Iran, as a more collective culture, is different from the more individualistic concept
of self in the West and these constructions can determine and influence the nature of
individual experience, Western psychology can enrich its outlook and broaden its perspective by looking at and accepting diversities in theoretical orientations and their implications. Western psychology can enrich itself by becoming more aware of an adherence to a monoculture approach and its implications as well as its limitations. I feel this is especially important nowadays, because we are concerned
with multi- cultural approaches in psychology. With the adoption of a multi
Cultural approach in Western Psychology, failure to replicate certain findings in
different cultural contexts will not mean lack of generality of various psychological principals or the mentality that divergent individuals inhabit incomparably different worlds. Instead it will lead to identifying the theoretical elements and/or processes that explain the differences.

What kind of research would you like to do in the next ten years?
I would like to continue doing research along the same lines that I have been doing
in the last two decades; namely, identity development and its issues, development
of women, creativity and its socio-cultural correlation, codes of ethic and its
development in Iran.

What are the biggest teaching challenges you have faced in your career?
I have faced a number of challenges in the years that I have been teaching and doing research in Iran. I would like to categorize them under the two following headings:
Resource challenges:
a) Non availability of new sources (books, articles, journals, tests,
b) Non specialization attitudes toward psychology especially in child
I did not see the specialization attitude in psychology after I returned to Iran in the early 1980s. This was especially apparent in the field of child development. The attitude that development is known by all is a presumption by a number of my colleagues. This means that everybody can teach these areas. This has been a major concern of mine, because it reduces the quality of the teachings. Fortunately this orientation has changed for the better during the last decade as psychology in Iran is beginning to take a more specialized perspective.

Thank you very much indeed. We appreciate your time, Dr.Shahraray!

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