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While it has long been recognised that anticipatory states amplify early EEG responses to visual targets in humans, it remains unclear how such modulations relate to the actual content of the neural representation, and help prioritise targets among temporally competing distractor stimuli. Using multivariate orientation decoding of high temporal resolution EEG recordings, we first demonstrate that anticipation also increases the amount of stimulus-identity information contained in these early brain responses. By characterising the influence of temporally adjacent distractors on target identity decoding, we additionally reveal that anticipation does not just attenuate distractor interference on target representations but, instead, delay it. Enhanced target decoding and distractor resistance are further predicted by the attenuation of posterior 8-14 Hz alpha oscillations. These findings offer several novel insights into how anticipatory states shape neural representations in service of resolving sensory competition in time, and they highlight the potential of non-invasive multivariate electrophysiology to track cognitive influences on perception in tasks with rapidly changing displays.

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