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In fMRI studies, the averaging of neural activity across multiple trials might obscure important psychophysiological subprocesses. The orienting response (OR) is a distinctive subprocess signalling the active orientation of attention towards potentially significant events. We sought to elucidate fMRI activity associated with visual stimuli that did or did not evoke simultaneously recorded electrodermal ORs (using customised skin conductance recording). ‘With-OR’ stimuli were associated with significant activity in the hippocampus, anterior cingulate and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Averaged analysis revealed activity only in the expected visual circuits. Our results suggest that potentially significant stimuli (with-OR) activate different functional networks to familiar (without-OR) stimuli, and that orienting may therefore be an informative subprocess to consider in cognitive fMRI studies.