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10 Years On – Remembering the Victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing

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Joshua Feast

This week’s 2023 Boston Marathon marked the ten year anniversary of the horrific terrorist attack that took place a decade ago that claimed the lives of 3 people and injured more than 250 others. It was the largest terrorism case in the United States since 9/11, and as a Boston based company with a large employee base in the Boston area, it truly hit home for Cogito. Following the tragic events, we saw our community come together to support one another in a time of need for the entire region. The slogan “Boston Strong” embodied the spirit and resilience of our community and we were humbled by the outpouring of support for the victims of this tragedy and the actions taken by so many both locally and nationally to offer help in various ways. 10 years later, we remember and honor the victims and families that were affected by this tragic event and thank all those that helped support the Boston community in its aftermath.

Cogito is proud to have lent a hand to support the community through a clinical trial of our emotion AI technology that was underway with veterans at a local hospital at the time of the bombing. Back in June of 2013 nearly two months after the Boston Marathon bombing, many who had suffered physical injuries had embarked on the road to recovery. However, the bombing was a traumatic event that affected the entire city, and the long-term psychological impact of the bombing on the city’s inhabitants was just starting to be understood.

After a traumatic event, many people experience some stress-related reaction, but many recover naturally over time and come away without long-term psychological impacts that disrupt their lives. Those who have previously experienced trauma, whether in war or domestically, are at a higher risk for episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following exposure to a new trauma. Some people are less susceptible to relapse, and research is still trying to understand why there are individual differences in resilience.

At the time of the Boston Marathon bombing, Cogito was engaged in a clinical trial involving our emotion AI leveraged through a smartphone application for veterans that continuously and passively monitored psychological health and well-being using built-in mobile sensors and survey questions. The bombing offered a unique pre-and post-disaster dataset for understanding the longitudinal trajectories and risk factors for PTSD following trauma. Analyses of the data showed that similarities between aspects of the marathon bombing and the participants’ own experiences in the war zone may reactivate trauma memories and exacerbate symptoms of PTSD on an individual level. Individual assessments reported participants feeling personally affected by the bombings and/or the manhunt that followed, even if they were not in the vicinity when the bombing occurred. The majority of them reported that the bombing reminded them of their own traumas and/or caused other emotional distress. Participants that were not personally impacted by the event reported higher severity of change in PTSD symptoms.

Cogito’s analysis of the trial’s rich dataset, which included data on the physical activity, social interaction, sleeping patterns, and mood of the trial participants before and after the Boston bombing was leveraged by clinicians to assess mental state and support veterans in the community that were affected by the event. We are extremely proud that we were able to support efforts to better understand the psychological impact of traumatic events, enable earlier detection of distress, and identify the factors that make some people more resilient than others.

Ten years on from that tragic day in April 2013, we pledge to always remember and honor the victims and families of the Boston Marathon bombing and continue to be proud of the work we were able to do to support local veterans and their clinicians through emotion AI.

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