The Psychology and Epidemiology of cRime and Safety perceptiONS (PERSONS) research lab, led by Dr. Carolyn Côté-Lussier, is dedicated to the study of public perceptions of crime and safety, and of the ways in which these perceptions are associated with attitudes, policy preferences, behavioral and health outcomes. 

Find out more about study and research opportunities in criminology and urban studies in Montreal, Canada. Find out more about our people here. Or even better, get in touch with us.

Read more about our research below.

Social and criminal stereotypes

Criminal stereotypes

While punishment of crime is for all intents and purposes qualitatively milder than it was only a few hundred years ago, the latter half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century has seen the introduction of increasingly harsh criminal justice policies in countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Some evidence suggests that this long-term increase in punitiveness is partly the result of increases in public attitudes that support and push for harsher criminal justice policies

Our research draws on the Stereotype Content Model, a theoretical framework that identifies links between social structural factors and social stereotypes, to identify the criminal stereotypes that may leadthe public to be more punitive. We ask questions such as: Are social structural factors associated with criminal stereotypes? How are these stereotypes associated with perception, emotional and behavioral responses? To what extent is endorsing criminal stereotypes associated with supporting harsh criminal justice policy?

We hope that this research will sensitize decision-makers to the factors contributing to public attitudes toward crime, and contribute to the implementation of balanced criminal justice policy. 

Key publications

Côté-Lussier, C. (2015).The functional relation between social inequality, criminal stereotypes, and public attitudes toward punishment of crime. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/law0000073.

Côté-Lussier, C. (2013). Fight fire with fire: The effect of perceived anger on punitive intuitions. Emotion, 13(6), 999. 


Ongoing projects


Principal Investigator. Emotion, intuition and public support for harsh criminal justice policy. (Funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada;Total awarded: $50,763).


Co-investigator (PI: Leclerc, C.; Co-applicants: Bérard, J., Blais, É., Vacheret, M.). Les pratiques pénales au Canada : vers un virage punitif des tribunaux? (Funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; Total awarded: $147,835)


Social stereotypes

We draw on the same theoretical framework to investigate the association between stereotypes linked to social status and inequalities related to well-being and health (e.g.,  academic adjustment and attainment outcomes).

We expect this research to guide interventions targeting social status-related biases leading to health and well-being disparities.  


Fitzpatrick, C., Côté-Lussier, C., & Blair, C. (2016). Dressed and groomed for success in elementary school: Student appearance and academic adjustment. The Elementary School Journal, 117(1), 30-45. https://doi.org/10.1086/687753 

Fitzpatrick, C., Côté-Lussier, C., Pagani, L. S., & Blair, C. (2013). I don’t think you like me very much: Child minority status and disadvantage predict relationship quality with teachers. Youth & Society, 47(5), 727-43, https://doi.org/10.1177/0044118X13508962

Safety and public health

Socioecological models have been lauded as the preferred twenty-first century approach to public health. A socioecological approach considers the complex and dynamic interactions between individuals and their physical and sociocultural surroundings. These interactive models link neighborhood environments to poorer health through direct (e.g., exposure to toxic environments) and mediated risk exposures. This mediated component refers in part to the impact of environmental neighborhood features on health through individuals' perceptions of their environment.

Our research aims to identify the role of perceptions of neighborhood safety in determining population-level physical and mental health. We ask questions such as: What built (e.g., traffic, lighting, greenery), and social (e.g., indicators of disorder, indicators of social inequality) neighborhood features contribute to adult and child perceptions of safety? Is greater perceived safety associated with improved mental (e.g., psychosocial distress) and physical (e.g., obesity) health outcomes? To what extent do differences in perceived safety help explain inequality-based health disparities?

The findings of this research will contribute to identifying targets for interventions designed to improve perceptions of safety and public health. 



Co-Investigator (Principal Investigators: Barnett T.A., McGrath, J.J.; Co-Investigators: Chaix, B., Datta, G., Henderson, M., Kesten, Y., Mathieu, M.-È., Van Hulst, A.). Neighborhood environment and obesity in youth: Investigating nocturnal and diurnal pathways. (Funding agency: Canadian Institutes of Health Research; Total awarded: $444,820).



Co-Investigator (Principal Investigator: Yan Kestens; Co-Investigators: Drouin, L., Lussier, L., Sauvé, L.). Revitalisation commerciale et du verdissement Pascal /Lapierre : Processus et impacts. (Funding Agency: Direction de la Santé Publique de Montréal; Total awarded: $20,000).


Co-Principal Investigator (Co-P.I.: Anders Jensen Knudby). Use of ISS photos for measurement of night time lighting. University of Ottawa, Faculty of Arts Special Projects Funding Program ($4,973.00). 


SPatial HEalth REsearch (SPHERE) Lab

QUebec Adipose and Lifestyle InvesTigation in Youth (QUALITY) Study

Key publications

Côté-Lussier, C. & Fitzpatrick, C. (2016). Feelings of safety at school, socioemotional functioning, and classroom engagement. Journal of Adolescent Healthdoi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2016.01.003 

Côté-Lussier, C., Jackson, J., Kestens, Y., Henderson, M., & Barnett, T. (2014). A child’s view: Social and physical environmental features differentially predict parent and child perceived neighborhood safety. Journal of Urban Health, 92(1), 10-23. doi: 10.1007/s11524-014-9917-0

Côté-Lussier, C., Barnett, T. A., Kestens, Y., Tu, M. T., & Séguin, L. (2014). The role of the residential neighborhood in linking youths’ family poverty trajectory to decreased feelings of safety at school. Journal of Youth and Adolescence

Côté-Lussier, C., Fitzpatrick, C., Séguin, L., & Barnett, T. A. (2015). Poor, unsafe, and overweight: The role of feeling unsafe at school in mediating the association among poverty exposure, youth screen time, physical activity, and weight status. American Journal of Epidemiology, 182(1), 67-79. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwv005

Cote-Lussier, C., Mathieu, M. E., & Barnett, T. A. (2015). Independent associations between child and parent perceived neighborhood safety, child screen time, physical activity and BMI: a structural equation modeling approach. International Journal of Obesity. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2015.98

Morality and ideology

Ideological systems are seen as being at the heart of left-right cleavages in political preferences. From an ideological standpoint, policy preferences are explained in part by differences in preferences for tradition, submission to authority and hierarchical as opposed to equal group relations. These preferences are well subsumed by two ideological systems: Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) and Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). A secondary but less investigated view is that individuals' moral systems may also be a source of divergence in left-right political cleavages. From support for biotechnology to the success of social policies, individuals’ morality is front and centre in predicting attitudinal outcomes.

Our research aims to identify the ideological and moral underpinnings of policy preferences and attitudes in the context of crime. We apply leading theoretical frameworks to answer questions such as: To what extent do ideological and moral systems overlap? Does one system precede the other? Do both systems contribute to explaining policy preferences (e.g., support for harsh criminal justice policy?)

We hope that this research will contribute to theoretical developments in the field of political psychology. Furthermore, this research will sensitize decision-makers to the factors contributing to individuals' policy preferences, and contribute to the implementation of balanced social policy. 

Key publications

Côté-Lussier, C. & Carmichael, J. T. (in press). Public support for harsh criminal justice policy and its moral and ideological tides. Psychology, Public Policy and Law.

Jackson, J., Gerber, M. M., & Côté-Lussier, C. (2011). Ideological Roots of Fear of Crime and Punitive Sentiment in Greece and the UK: A Commentary on Cheliotis & Xenakis. In L. Cheliotis & S. Xenakis (Eds.), Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Greece: International Comparative Perspective: Peter Lang.