The Right Wing

5 Reasons Liberals and Conservatives Can't Get Along—According to Mental Health Experts

Getting into the political brain.

Photo Credit: Lightspring/Shutterstock

Are we genetically predetermined to have a politically liberal or conservative perspective? Can we change or adapt our political brains? Experts say while it's not set in stone, specific factors, such as location, will influence outcomes.

But here are five reasons why you probably won't be crossing the aisle too much in the near future.

1. Tribal Affiliation

“Liberals and conservatives in America now absolutely cannot understand each other, they are forbidden from understanding each other, lest they be kicked out of their tribe," believes Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist (read more of his thinking).

2. Proximity

Haidt also claims that our increasing political divide between America's left and right is greatly influenced by the physical habits of Congress. “When Newt Gingrich came in [as House Speaker], he told the incoming freshmen, don’t move to Washington," relayed Haidt. "Prior to then, they all lived in Washington. They served on committees together, on school boards, or their wives or spouses did. They knew each other, they knew each other’s kids. They had personal relationships. [You can't] end all personal relationships and [then] have them work out difficult issues. It can't be done."

3. Brain Structure

“Liberals tend to have a larger anterior cingulate gyrus. That is an area that is responsible for taking in new information and that impact of the new information on decision making or choices. Conservatives tended on the whole to have a larger right amygdala. Amygdala being a deeper brain structure that processes more emotional information—specifically fear based information. So it’s really responsible for the fight or flight response. And this isn’t everybody. It’s not black and white and of course then, you know, what about all of the people in the middle? But basically the study showed that if you just based it on brain structural size different you could predict who would be a conservative and who would be a liberal with frequency of 71.6 percent," explains psychiatrist Gail Saltz

4. DNA

There's a political gene that scientists say can tell if you're a liberal or conservative. However, experience can override genetics, according to Kenneth Blum, a researcher on neuropsychopharmacology, who attributes this effect to decreasing dopamine. 

5. Motives

“There’s basically five things people care about: harming others, fairness, loyalty, tradition and purity, and you see these five concerns across the world, in all sorts of different cultures, but different groups differ on how much they weight those different factors. Liberals essentially care about harm and fairness. But political conservatives tend to rate all five of these things as important,” says social psychologist Peter Ditto.

Don't let big tech control what news you see. Get more stories like this in your inbox, every day.

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.