OBJECTIVE: This study was designed to determine whether stapes movement is pistonlike or complex. BACKGROUND: The literature provides conflicting information on whether stapes footplate motion is only pistonlike or has other types of movement, such as hingelike or rocking. METHODS: Using 10 freshly harvested human cadaver temporal bones, 3 targets were placed on the stapes footplate through an extended facial recess approach. The targets were 0.5-mm pieces of reflective adhesive material positioned on the long axis of the footplate at the anterior crus, central footplate, and posterior crus. Displacement and phase of the three targets were measured from 0.2 to 10 kHz at a 90dB sound pressure level input at the tympanic membrane. The measuring system was a sophisticated laser Doppler vibrometer (LDV). A computer program (Tymptest) calculated footplate displacement and relative phase at the three sites and the ratio of anterior-posterior rocking movement of the footplate long axis to displacement at the center. RESULTS: Below 2.0 kHz, stapes vibration is predominately pistonlike. Above 2.0 kHz, anterior-posterior rocking motion increases logarithmically with frequency, and, near 4.0 kHz, rocking and pistonlike motion are approximately equal. CONCLUSIONS: Stapes footplate vibration is primarily pistonlike up to 2.0 kHz but becomes more complex at higher frequencies because of an increase in anterior-posterior rocking motion. Hingelike movements were not observed. This information may be helpful in the design of ossicular replacement prostheses that mimic or improve upon normal stapes vibration.