Meditation exercises and mindfulness, or “mindfulness” alter brain structure and reduce the social stress, as was found by a team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Neurology and Cognitive Sciences, Leipzig (Germany).
His work, published in the journal Science Advances, it carries the name of ReSource Project and is based on the study of 160 people who went through three modules of different practices from meditation of three months duration each.
“Our results provide evidence of impressive brain plasticity in adults, through a mental practice daily, brief and concentrated, which leads to an increase in social intelligence,” explained Tania Singer, the principal researcher of the project.
In the first of the modules is instructed participants in basic techniques of meditation, that require to focus the attention on the breath, the sensations in different parts or visual signals or acoustic.
The second quarter focused on the competences socio-affective, such as compassion, empathy, gratitude, or the management of emotions, adding to the meditation classical new techniques that should try ten minutes each day for couples.
In the third module, the participants exercised skills, social-cognitive, with specific exercises and also a couple, learn to take a perspective of aspects of the own personality from recent experiences.
All the exercises are practiced six days a week for thirty minutes and before and after each module quarterly researchers carried out tests of psychological behavior, brain measurements with magnetic resonance imaging, and analysis of stress markers, such as the release of cortisol.
“Depending on the technique of mental training that took place during the quarter changed significantly in the participants ‘ brain structures and specific behavioral markers linked to them ”, stressed Sofie Valk, the main author of the article.
At the end of the first module, for example, changes were detected in areas of the cerebral cortex linked to attention, while at the end of the other two, focusing on the competences socio-affective and socio-cognitive, were improvements in aspects such as compassion or perspective-taking, with changes in regions of the brain where they develop these capabilities.
Singer underlined the relevance of these findings for the educational system and the clinical application, taking into account that “empathy, compassion and perspective-taking are critical skills for the success of social interactions, conflict resolution and cooperation.”
In addition to affect differently to the brain plasticity, the mental exercises are also impacted in different ways in response to stress.
By subjecting the participants to a review of psychosocial stress, it was discovered that the secretion of cortisol, the stress hormone, decreased more than 51 %, although only after finishing the two programs focused on developing social skills; therefore, it is not perceived this descent at the end of the first module, aimed to encourage the attention.
However, at the end of each of the three modules, yes they had reduced the subjective perception of stress
The results, explains Singer, shows that healthy adults can improve social skills crucial necessary for the success of the social interaction and co-operation, reducing stress, and that each mental exercise has a different effect on the brain, health and behavior.
“Once we have understood which techniques of mental training have what effects, we will be able to use them in a specific way to support the physical and mental health”, stands out.