By Stephanie Stahl

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Politics has deeply divided Americans nowadays, and researchers say your brain may actually be to blame.

Scientists are studying how politics affect your mind and why it’s often a challenge to accept the other side.

Experts say the nation is politically dived and united in overwhelming emotion.

“It’s great timing for a study like this,” said research participant Max Henning.

Henning is part of a research project at the USC Brain and Creativity Institute.

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Researchers are studying participants’ brain changes when their political beliefs are challenged.

Researchers scanned 40 liberal participants, watching their brain chemistry as a team tried to sway their political positions.

The parts of the brain that were triggered control deep, emotional thoughts about personal identity.

“When people activate these emotional structures of the brain more, when they’re being challenged, they’re less likely to change their minds,” said Dr. Jonas Kaplan of the USC Brain and Creativity Institute.

Researchers found when people were emotionally threatened their brains went into defense mode, shutting down any willingness to accept counter-arguments.

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“People don’t often realize how automatic it can be to push back on information that you disagree with, even if you identify as a person who is open to new ideas,” said Henning.

So if we’re biologically wired to block opposing political views, is there any way to have less political divisiveness?

Researchers say a few brains did show a very slight ability to change.

“Maybe that is a sign of hope, a crack in the door a little bit, but I so think difficult to change our beliefs about these things that are so important to us and define us,” said Kaplan.

Researchers will study the brains of conservatives to see if they, too, stand firm in their convictions.

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