A novel test for the selective identification of anxiolytic and anxiogenic drug effects in the rat is described, using an elevated + -maze consisting of two open arms and two enclosed arms. The use of this test for detecting such drug effects was validated behaviourally, physiologically, and pharmacologically. Rats made significantly fewer entries into the open arms than into the closed arms, and spent significantly less time in open arms. Confinement to the open arms was associated with the observation of significantly more anxiety-related behaviours, and of significantly greater plasma corticosterone concentrations, than confinement to the closed arms. Neither novelty nor illumination was a significant contributor to the behaviour of the rats on the + -maze. A significant increase in the percentage of time spent on the open arms and the number of entries into the open arms was observed only within clinically effective anxiolytics (chlordiazepoxide, diazepam and, less effectively, phenobarbitone). Compounds that cause anxiety in man significantly reduced the percentage of entries into, and time spent on, the open arms (yohimbine, pentylenetetrazole, caffeine, amphetamine). Neither antidepressants nor major tranquilisers had a specific effect. Exposure to a holeboard immediately before placement on the + -maze showed that behaviour on the maze was not clearly correlated either with exploratory head-dipping or spontaneous locomotor activity.