Geer and Maisel (1972) – Lack of Control & Physiological Measures

Geer, James H., and Eileen Maisel. “Evaluating the effects of the prediction-control confound.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 23.3 (1972): 314.



This is the third study we will be looking at from the ’causes of stress’ section of ‘Stress’, as part of your OCR A2 Health and Clinical Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Lack of Control

This also is the first study we will be looking at from the ‘measuring stress’ section of ‘Stress’, as part of your OCR A2 Health and Clinical Psychology course. It is further categorised into ‘Physiological measures


Physiological measures overcome the subjectivity of self-report methods as they rely on scientific measurements such as hormones, chemicals, heart rate, blood pressure and more.

A problem with physiological measures is that they can lack validity as we can’t be sure that we are measuring stress levels as caffeine, drugs and alcohol can cause the same effects.

Physiological methods of measurements:

  • Breathing Rate: tubes around the chest
  • Voice stress analyser
  • Blood pressure: specially designed inflatable armband
  • Heart Rate: Electrocardiogram
  • Sweating: Galvanic Skin Response
  • Hormones & Steroids: Blood or Urine

Galvanic skin response is another method of measuring the electrical resistance of the skin. The electrical resistance directly relates to moisture on the skin and so the activity of the sweat glands. These measurements can then be conveyed to the individual who can use relaxation to lower their perspiration.

Typically during a stress response body temperature drops and so by measuring this the individual can attempt to engage in relaxation techniques. The skin temperature is measured using sensors that are attached to the hands or feet.

This drop in skin temperature is caused by vasoconstriction (a narrowing of the blood capillaries in the skin).

EMG is performed using an electromyograph which measures the electrical potential of muscle cells at rest and when contracting to produce a record called an electromyogram. The muscles electrical potential is picked up using Electrodes with needles inserted in to muscle tissue.

This information is conveyed to the subject who can then learn to control and predict muscle tension in order to alleviate stress.


Geer & Maisel (1972) – tested the idea that we all want control over our lives by setting up an experiment to see if perceived control over something aversive reduces stress.

This is testing the idea that if we don’t have control over something, it makes it more stressful.


To see if perceived control or actual control can reduce stress reactions to aversive stimuli (photos of crash victims).

Method and Design

Laboratory experiment in which participants were shown photographs of dead car crash victims and their stress levels were measured by GSR and HR electrodes.

For obvious reasons I not going to post any of those photos.

Independent measures design – the participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions.


60 psychology undergraduates from New York University.

The participants were randomly divided into three groups.


Each participant was seated in a sound-shielded room and wired up to galvanic skin response (GSR) and heart-rate monitors.  The machine calibrated for 5 minutes while the participant relaxed and then a baseline measure was taken.  The instructions were then read over the intercom and after 1 minutes  the remaining stimuli were presented.

The GSR analyses were taken at the onset of the tone, during the second half of the tone and in response to the photograph shown.

Group One were given actual control over how long they saw each photograph for as they could press a button to terminate the photograph for a maximum of 35 seconds and were told that a tone would proceed each photograph.

Group Two (the predictability group) were linked to the group with actual control:

They saw the photos for exactly the same time as group one, but they were warned that the photos were 60 seconds apart and told about how long they would see each photo for.  They were also told that a 10 second warning tone would precede each photograph.  They had no control but knew what would happen. 

Group Three were also linked  to the group with actual control, but were told that that from time to time they would see photographs and hear tones.  This group had no control and no predictability


All the data from the Heart Rate monitors was deemed as invalid and therefore was discarded from the results.

The predictability group (Group two) were most stressed by the tone as they knew what was coming, but did not have control over the photograph.

The control group (Group one) were less stressed by the photograph than the predictability group and no-control group (Groups one and two) as they had control.


The results suggest that having the control to terminate aversive stimuli reduces the stressful impact of those stimuli.

Geer and Maisel (1972) Evaluation

+ Order effects – the use of the independent measures means that order effects have been controlled for.

– Participants variables could have confounded upon the results as the design was independent measures.

– Ecological validity – in real life there are not many chances that we have to control real life variables therefore the ecological validity is low because we cannot easily generalise the results to real life situations.

– Small sample – this makes the reliability of the results low and also makes it harder to generalise the results.

+ Useful –  the results and conclusions suggest that giving people the belief that they are in control may reduce their stress.


Geer, James H., and Eileen Maisel. “Evaluating the effects of the prediction-control confound.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 23.3 (1972): 314.

Further Reading

OCR A2 Psychology Student Unit Guide New Edition: Unit G543 Health and Clinical Psychology (Student Unit Guides)

Psych Yogi’s Top Ten Psychology Revision Tips for the A* Student

Article Name
Geer and Maisel (1972) - Lack of Control
'causes of stress' section of 'Stress' revise OCR A2 Health and Clinical Psychology course. It is further categorised into 'Lack of Control' revision

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