The foundations of orienting and attention are hypothesized to stem from activation of defensive and appetitive motivational systems that evolved to protect and sustain the life of the individual. Motivational activation initiates a cascade of perceptual and motor processes that facilitate the selection of appropriate behavior. Among these are detection of significance, indexed by a late centro-parietal positivity in the event-related potential, enhanced perceptual processing, indexed by a initial cardiac deceleration, and preparation for action, indexed by electrodermal changes. Data exploring the role of stimulus novelty and significance in orienting are presented that indicate different components of the orienting response habituate at different rates. Taken together, it is suggested that orienting is mediated by activation of fundamental motivational systems that have evolved to support survival.