M06-2X/6-31+G(d,p) computations are reported for the 8π-6π electrocyclization cascades of 1,3,5,7-tetraenes. The rate-determining step for these cascades is typically the second (6π) ring closure. According to experiment and theory, un- and monosubstituted tetraenes readily undergo 8π electrocyclic ring closure to form 1,3,5-cyclooctatrienes; however, the 6π electrocyclizations of these cyclooctatriene intermediates are slow and reversible, and mixtures of monocyclic and bicyclic products are formed. Computations indicate that di- and trisubstituted tetraenes undergo facile but less exergonic 8π electrocyclization due to a steric clash that destabilizes the 1,3,5-cyclooctatriene intermediates. Relief of this steric clash ensures the subsequent 6π ring closures of these intermediates are both kinetically facile and thermodynamically favorable, and only the bicyclic products are observed for the cascade reactions of naturally occurring tri- and tetrasubstituted tetraenes (in agreement with computations). The 6π electrocyclization step of these cascade electrocyclizations is also potentially diastereoselective, and di- and trisubstituted tetraenes often undergo cascade reactions with high diastereoselectivities. The exo mode of ring closure is favored for these 6π electrocyclizations due to a steric interaction that destabilizes the endo transition state. Thus, theory explains both the recalcitrance of the unsubstituted 1,3,5,7-octatetraene and 1-substituted tetraenes toward formation of the bicyclo[4.2.0]octa-2,4-diene products, as well as the ease and the stereoselectivity with which terminal di- and trisubstituted tetraenes are known to react biosynthetically.