1. We have recently shown that perception of intestinal stimuli increases by spatial summation phenomena. Our aim was to determine in humans whether intestinal perception depends on (a) the length of gut stimulated, and (b) the distance between stimuli. 2. In a first series of studies, we compared perception of isobaric intestinal distensions applied over a 3 cm segment and a 36 cm segment by means of two separate barostats (n = 8). In a second series of studies we compared perception of intestinal distensions applied simultaneously by two balloons sited 3, 12 or 48 cm apart (n = 6). 3. Distension of the 36 cm segment induced significantly greater perception than distension of the 3 cm intestinal segment (discomfort perceived at 20 +/- 2 mmHg and 31 +/- 2 mmHg, respectively; P < 0.05). Perception of intestinal balloon distension increased when a second stimulus was simultaneously applied, independently of the distance between the two balloons (the discomfort thresholds were 30 +/- 11, 20 +/- 6 and 28 +/- 7% lower with simultaneous distensions 3, 12 and 48 cm apart, respectively). 4. We conclude that perception of intestinal distension is determined by the extension of the field of stimulation, and the summation effect is similar whether adjacent or distant fields are stimulated.