Decoding the influence of anticipatory states on visual perception in the presence of temporal distractors.
van Ede F., Chekroud SR., Stokes MG., Nobre AC.
Anticipatory states help prioritise relevant perceptual targets over competing distractor stimuli and amplify early brain responses to these targets. Here we combine electroencephalography recordings in humans with multivariate stimulus decoding to address whether anticipation also increases the amount of target identity information contained in these responses, and to ask how targets are prioritised over distractors when these compete in time. We show that anticipatory cues not only boost visual target representations, but also delay the interference on these target representations caused by temporally adjacent distractor stimuli-possibly marking a protective window reserved for high-fidelity target processing. Enhanced target decoding and distractor resistance are further predicted by the attenuation of posterior 8-14 Hz alpha oscillations. These findings thus reveal multiple mechanisms by which anticipatory states help prioritise targets from temporally competing distractors, and they highlight the potential of non-invasive multivariate electrophysiology to track cognitive influences on perception in temporally crowded contexts.