Abstract. While it is a popular selection criterion for spline smoothing, generalized cross-validation (GCV) occasionally yields severely undersmoothed estimates. Two extensions of GCV called robust GCV (RGCV) and modified GCV have been proposed as more stable criteria. Each involves a parameter that must be chosen, but the only guidance has come from simulation results. We investigate the performance of the criteria analytically. In most studies, the mean square prediction error is the only loss function considered. Here, we use both the prediction error and a stronger Sobolev norm error, which provides a better measure of the quality of the estimate. A geometric approach is used to analyse the superior small-sample stability of RGCV compared to GCV. In addition, by deriving the asymptotic inefficiency for both the prediction error and the Sobolev error, we find intervals for the parameters of RGCV and modified GCV for which the criteria have optimal performance.