Direct photolysis of 1-phenylsilacyclobutane and 1-phenyl-, 1-(2-phenylethynyl)-, and 1-(4'-biphenylyl)-1-methylsilacyclobutane in hexane solution leads to the formation of ethylene and the corresponding 1-arylsilenes, which have been trapped by photolysis in the presence of methanol. Quantum yields for photolysis of the three methyl-substituted compounds have been determined to be 0.04, 0.26, and 0.29, respectively, using the photolysis of 1,1-diphenylsilacyclobutane Φsilene = 0.21) as the actinometer. The corresponding silenes have been detected by laser flash photolysis; they have lifetimes of several microseconds, exhibit UV absorption maxima ranging from 315 to 330 nm, and react with methanol with rate constants on the order of (2-5) × 109 M-1 s-1 in hexane. Absolute rate constants for reaction of 1-phenylsilene and 1-methyl-1-phenylsilene with water, methanol, tert-butanol, and acetic acid in acetonitrile solution have been determined, and are compared to those of 1,1-diphenylsilene under the same conditions. With the phenylethynyl- and biphenyl-substituted methylsilacyclobutanes, the triplet states can also be detected by laser flash photolysis, and are shown to not be involved in silene formation on the basis of triplet sensitization and (or) quenching experiments. Fluorescence emission spectra and singlet lifetimes have been determined for the three 1-aryl-1-methylsilacyclobutanes, 1,1-diphenylsilacyclobutane, and a series of acyclic arylmethylsilane model compounds. These data, along with the reaction quantum yields, allow estimates to be made of the rate constants for the excited singlet state reaction responsible for silene formation. 1-Methyl-1-phenylsilacyclobutane undergoes reaction from its lowest excited singlet state with a rate constant 10-80 times lower than those of the other three derivatives. The results are consistent with a stepwise mechanism for silene formation, involving a 1,4-biradicaloid intermediate that partitions between product and starting material.Key words: silene, silacyclobutane, photochemistry, biradical.