It was hypothesized that the human colon is able to relax or constrict to receive materials arriving from above or to hasten distal passage of contents. Dilatation is also a feature of several pathophysiological states and, therefore, the propensity of the colon to dilate might be important in disease. An electromechanical barostat was applied to the human colon, and changes in colonic tone were recorded in response to physiological perturbations. In 16 studies of 14 healthy volunteers, the colon was prepared for colonoscopy and a manometry-barostat assembly was positioned in the ascending (n = 5), transverse (n = 4), or descending (n = 7) colon. The influences of food and overnight sleep were recorded. The barostat continuously monitored, at a constant pressure, the volume of air within a highly compliant 10-cm bag. Changes in tone, as reflected by changes in bag volume, were usually unassociated with waves of intraluminal pressure recorded from adjacent manometric sites. Thus, the barostat revealed a motor phenomenon not readily apparent by conventional manometry. Food caused an immediate though slowly progressive increase in tone; however, bag volumes were greatest during overnight sleep and were decreased on waking. The barostat has the potential to explore another possibly important aspect of colonic function in humans.