Arrestins selectively bind to the phosphorylated activated form of G protein-coupled receptors, thereby blocking further G protein activation. Structurally, arrestins consist of two domains topologically connected by a 12-residue long loop, which we term the "hinge" region. Both domains contain receptor-binding elements. The relative size and shape of arrestin and rhodopsin suggest that dramatic changes in arrestin conformation are required to bring all of its receptor-binding elements in contact with the cytoplasmic surface of the receptor. Here we use the visual arrestin/rhodopsin system to test the hypothesis that the transition of arrestin into its active receptor-binding state involves a movement of the two domains relative to each other that might be limited by the length of the hinge. We have introduced three insertions and 24 deletions in the hinge region and measured the binding of all of these mutants to light-activated phosphorylated (P-Rh*), dark phosphorylated (P-Rh), dark unphosphorylated (Rh), and light-activated unphosphorylated rhodopsin (Rh*). The addition of 1-3 extra residues to the hinge has no effect on arrestin function. In contrast, sequential elimination of 1-8 residues results in a progressive decrease in P-Rh* binding without changing arrestin selectivity for P-Rh*. These results suggest that there is a minimum length of the hinge region necessary for high affinity binding, consistent with the idea that the two domains move relative to each other in the process of arrestin transition into its active receptor-binding state. The same length of the hinge is also necessary for the binding of "constitutively active" arrestin mutants to P-Rh*, dark P-Rh, and Rh*, suggesting that the active (receptor-bound) arrestin conformation is essentially the same in both wild type and mutant forms.