An entire “neurobic” subculture has cropped up based on the idea of exercising your brain to sharpen mental acuity and encourage a range of health benefits. Now two new studies are giving a boost to research that demonstrates how certain mental training routines promote structural changes to the brain, improve social skills, and reduce stress.

Both reports, published in the journal Science Advances, are part of the large-scale ReSource Project — a unique study on the effects of mental training on the brain, body, and behavior — overseen by Tania Singer, a professor in the department of social neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig.

People who meditate have long claimed that their practice leaves them with a feeling of lasting well-being and improves various aspects of their physical and mental health. Research into the general neurological and physical effects of mindfulness has largely borne this out. But until now, the nuts and bolts of these processes — the correlation of specific meditation practices with particular behaviors and brain regions — have remained somewhat fuzzy.

While general brain plasticity is well-documented, with previous studies showing that brain structure can be changed by something as simple as learning to juggle, until now little has been known about the plasticity of the social brain.

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