Exposure to Prior Negative Life Events and Responses to the Boston Marathon Bombings

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Objective: The objective of the study was to explore how type and timing of prior negative life experiences (NLEs) may be linked to responses to subsequent collective trauma, such as a terrorist attack. Method: Using a longitudinal design, we examined relationships between prior NLEs and responses to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings (BMB). Shortly after the BMB, a representative sample, compiled from metropolitan Boston (n = 846), New York (n = 941), and the rest of the United States (n = 2,888), reported BMB exposure and acute stress symptomatology. Six months later, we assessed prior NLEs, BMB-related posttraumatic stress symptoms, ongoing fear about future terrorism, and functioning. NLEs were classified by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition, criteria for traumatic events and other stressful experiences and by occurrence in childhood, adulthood (pre-BMB), and recent (past 6 months). Results: Cumulative exposure to events, delineated by type and timing of occurrence, were contrasted; analyses adjusted for demographics, BMB-related exposure, and residential region. Post-BMB acute stress was associated with childhood (b = 0.88, 95% confidence interval [CI: 0.14, 1.61]) and adulthood (b = 0.83, 95% CI [0.21, 1.45]) trauma exposure. Exposure to childhood, adulthood, and recent traumatic events, as well as recent stressful events, was associated with higher BMB-related posttraumatic stress (ps < .05). Greater exposure to adulthood (b = 0.06, 95% CI [0.01, 0.11]) and recent (b = 0.30, 95% CI [0.01, 0.58]) trauma was associated with higher fear about future terrorism. Exposure to childhood (b = 0.17, 95% CI [0.07, 0.27]) and adulthood (b = 0.15, 95% CI [0.05, 0.25]) trauma and recent stressful events (b = 0.45, 95% CI [0.24, 0.66]) was associated with poorer functioning. Conclusion: Prior trauma may sensitize negative responses to collective trauma; recent stressors may exacerbate effects.

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