<p>A student opens up Google on a desktop computer.</p>

A student opens up Google on a desktop computer.

There is a connection between Google searches for the N-word and regional black mortality rates, according to a study by a university professor published in PLOS One last month.

“We found that areas with a greater proportion of searches containing the N-word had not only a higher black mortality rate but also a greater gap in the black-white mortality rate,” David Chae, the study’s lead researcher and an epidemiology professor, wrote in an email.

Researchers analyzed mortality rates from leading causes of death among blacks, including heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes, and adjusted for other relevant factors such as age, sex, the percent of the black population, levels of education and poverty.

They also examined the gap between black and white mortality rates in each of the 196 areas assembled by the National Center for Health Statistics.

According to the study, the researchers found that each one standard deviation increase in area racism equaled about an 8.2 percent increase in the black mortality rate.

Measuring racial attitudes can be tricky, Chae wrote. Past methods have included surveys, but he wrote that those can yield subjective results, as people are more likely to self-censor their more “socially unacceptable beliefs.”

“Racism is a public health issue,” Chae wrote. “This study adds to evidence that racism is a social toxin that increases susceptibility to disease and generates racial disparities in mortality. It also points to the utility of using Internet-search-based measures to monitor racism at the area-level and assess its impact on health outcomes.”

Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at this university who teaches a class about modern perceptions of race, said Chae’s study provides a link between the words people use and prejudicial attitudes and behaviors.

“This study shows that words actually matter, and words have detrimental effects on the life outcomes of blacks,” Ray said. “Because people who use racist words seem to also be likely to hold prejudiced attitudes and exhibit discriminatory behavior.”

Though this state doesn’t indicate the same high level of racism like other areas in the country, , Chae’s study showed that racism still exists here too, said Stephen Thomas, health services administration professor and this state’s Center for Health Equity director.

The findings serve as evidence of racial discrimination across America, Thomas said.

Racism persists in housing, employment and the criminal justice system, Chae wrote.

But some forms of racism are more subtle — Internet searches might reflect the hidden instances of racism, Chae said.

“In a democracy like ours, a country made up of people seeking freedom from around the world, you should not be able to predict my life expectancy by my zip code,” Thomas said. “You should not be able to predict my quality of life based on a geographic map of people Googling the word ‘n-----.’”

Thomas said he hopes Chae’s work helps people understand how prevalent racism is in the U.S.

“The consequences of that word impacts people’s life and longevity,” Thomas said. “What Dr. Chae’s work shows to someone looking at that map is there are more Baltimore uprisings to come, more Fergusons to come unless we do something now to start ending racism in America.”