Idiopathic hyperventilation has been defined as a respiratory-related psychophysiological complaint. This study attempted to clarify relationships between psychological and physiological variables in this condition. Participants demonstrated increased anxiety, depression, and symptoms consistent with hyperventilation. This was associated with a reduced peripheral chemosensitivity (isocapnic hypoxic rebreathe; -0.84 +/- 0.5 min-1.%O2(-1)), which was normalized with experimentally increased pCO2. Resting CO2 sensitivity was close to normal (2.1 +/- 1.0 min-1.mmHg-1). Breath hold time was significantly reduced versus controls (20.4 s +/- 12 s vs. 63 s +/- 31 s), and resting PETCO2 was correlated with the anxiety score. Also, the ventilatory response to moderate intensity exercise was augmented (vs. controls). The normalcy of pulmonary and chemoreceptor responses suggests that psychological factors may initiate this hyperventilation, which may become a conditioned response with an increased drive to breathe.