Background. Certain biphasic waveforms defibrillate at lower energies than monophasic waveforms, although the mechanism is unknown. Methods and Results. The relative ability of monophasic and biphasic shocks to stimulate partially refractory myocardium was compared because defibrillation is thought to involve stimulating relatively refractory myocardial tissue. Shocks of 25-125 V were given during regularly paced rhythm in 11 open-chest dogs. Computerized recordings of shock potentials, and of activations before and after the shocks, were made at 117 epicardial sites. To quantify the shock field strength, the shock potential gradients were calculated at the electrode sites. Monophasic action potential (MAP) electrode recordings, obtained in five dogs, confirmed direct myocardial excitation by the shock, that is, activations beginning during the shock. Tissue was directly excited up to 4 cm from the shocking electrode, and the area directly excited increased as the shock was made stronger or given less prematurely. In six dogs, strength-interval curves for direct excitation were determined from plots of potential gradient versus refractoriness at each electrode site. The biphasic curves were located to the right of the monophasic curves by 8±4 msec, indicating a lesser ability to excite refractory myocardium. When the gradient at the directly excited border was at least 3.8±1 V/cm, conduction failed to propagate away from the directly excited zone after the shock, and MAP recordings made near the border showed a shock-induced graded response. This graded response, which prolonged repolarization, may have been responsible for the failure of conduction from the directly excited zone. Although better for defibrillating, the biphasic waveform was thus less effective than the monophasic one in exciting relatively refractory myocardium. Conclusions. These results indicated that waveform selection for defibrillation should not be guided solely by the ability of the waveform to stimulate tissue, as these two properties can be discordant.