Patients with different irritable bowel symptoms and normal subjects were compared to determine whether subtypes of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could be distinguished on the basis of colonic motility or psychological test scores. A provocative test involving stepwise distension of the rectosigmoid area revealed two types of colonic motility. Slow contractions having durations of at least 15 sec and occurring at irregular intervals were more frequent in IBS patients than in normals but did not differentiate constipation from diarrhea. Fast contractions having durations of less than 15 sec and occurring in runs at frequencies of 6-9 cpm were more frequent in patients with diarrhea than in normals or constipated IBS patients. Constipated patients showed no more fast contractions than normals. Severity of bowel symptoms was correlated with the overall amount of motility (motility index) in patients with diarrhea but not in patients with constipation. Patients with IBS showed significantly elevated levels on the following psychological traits: anxiety, interpersonal sensitivity, depression, hostility, and somatization of affect. However, there were no significant trait differences between patients with diarrhea and those with constipation. Also, there was no correlationbetween amount of psychopathology and either colonic motility or severity of symptoms in the whole group of IBS patients.