To understand the disorders of bowel motility, it is important to know the range of bowel patterns in the general population. We have devised a brief self-administered questionnaire which, when used among a group of 789 students and hospital employees, disclosed that 94.2% had stool frequencies between three per day and three per week, and that 17.1% had bowel dysfunction. When compared with the remaining sample, the bowel dysfunction group was predominantly female. This group also reported more often that stress influenced their bowel function, and more often used laxatives and visited physicians for bowel complaints. Further medical evaluation to characterize this subgroup is needed. We believe that selection, for psychologic and physiologic study, of subjects with bowel dysfunction not seeking health care will provide a needed comparison group in our understanding of patients with irritable bowel syndrome.