When a young growing eye wears a negative or positive spectacle lens, the eye compensates for the imposed defocus by accelerating or slowing its elongation rate so that the eye becomes emmetropic with the lens in place. Such spectacle lens compensation has been shown in chicks, tree-shrews, marmosets and rhesus monkeys. We have developed a model of emmetropisation using the guinea pig in order to establish a rapid and easy mammalian model. Guinea pigs were raised with a +4D, +2D, 0D (plano), -2D or -4D lens worn in front of one eye for 10 days or a +4D on one eye and a 0D on the fellow eye for 5 days or no lens on either eye (littermate controls). Refractive error and ocular distances were measured at the end of these periods. The difference in refractive error between the eyes was linearly related to the lens-power worn. A significant compensatory response to a +4D lens occurred after only 5 days and near full compensation occurred after 10 days when the effective imposed refractive error was between 0D and 8D of hyperopia. Eyes wearing plano lenses were slightly more myopic than their fellow eyes (-1.7D) but showed no difference in ocular length. Relative to the plano group, plus and minus lenses induced relative hyperopic or myopic differences between the two eyes, inhibited or accelerated their ocular growth, and expanded or decreased the relative thickness of the choroid, respectively. In individual animals, the difference between the eyes in vitreous chamber depth and choroid thickness reached +/-100 and +/-40microm, respectively, and was significantly correlated with the induced refractive differences. Although eyes responded differentially to plus and minus lenses, the plus lenses generally corrected the hyperopia present in these young animals. The effective refractive error induced by the lenses ranged between -2D of myopic defocus to +10D of hyperopic defocus with the lens in place, and compensation was highly linear between 0D and 8D of effective hyperopic defocus, beyond which the compensation was reduced. We conclude that in the guinea pig, ocular growth and refractive error are visually regulated in a bidirectional manner to plus and minus lenses, but that the eye responds in a graded manner to imposed effective hyperopic defocus.