To examine the effect of resistive loading on variational activity of breathing, we studied 18 healthy subjects breathing at rest and with inspiratory resistive loads of 3 and 6 cm H2O/L/s, applied randomly for 1 h each. Compared with resting breathing, a resistive load of 3 cm H2O/L/s decreased the total variational activity of expiratory time (TE) and minute ventilation (V I), whereas a load of 6 cm H2O/L/s increased the total variational activity of inspiratory time (TI). Compared with the load of 3 cm H2O/L/s, the load of 6 cm H2O/L/s increased total variational activity of tidal volume (VT), TI, TE, and V I. Partitioning of the total variational activity revealed that these alterations were due to changes in the random uncorrelated fraction. Compared with rest, both the resistive loads of 3 and 6 cm H2O/L/s increased the number of breath lags displaying significant serial correlations ("short-term memory") of TI. Compared with rest, the load of 3 cm H2O/L/s increased the autocorrelation coefficient at a lag of one breath for VT and the load of 6 cm H2O/L/s increased the correlated fraction of variational activity of VT. Thus, three measures of correlated behavior-autocorrelation coefficient at a lag of 1 breath, "short-term memory," and the correlated fraction of total variational activity- increased with loading. In conclusion, resistive loading changed total variational activity according to the size of the load: the random fraction decreased with the smaller load but increased with the larger load; in contrast, correlated behavior increased with both loads. The different behaviors of random and correlated variability with loading may reflect different physiologic influences on respiratory control.