The ability to maintain focus and avoid distraction by goal-irrelevant stimuli is critical for performing many tasks and may be a key deficit in attention-related problems. Recent studies have demonstrated that irrelevant stimuli that are consciously perceived may be filtered out on a neural level and not cause the distraction triggered by subliminal stimuli. However, in everyday situations, suprathreshold stimuli often do capture attention, but the neural mechanisms by which some stimuli rapidly and automatically trigger distraction remain unknown. Here, we investigated the neural basis of distraction by utilizing a particularly strong form of distractor: the abrupt appearance of a new object. Our results revealed a competitive relation between brain regions coding the locations of the target and the distractor, with distractor processing increasing and target processing decreasing, but only when the distractor was a new object; an equivalent luminance change to an existing object neither generated distraction nor affected target processing. Results also revealed changes in neural activity in intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and temporo-parietal junction (TPJ) that were unique to the new object distractor condition. The strongest relations between behavioral distraction and neural activity were observed in these parietal regions. Furthermore, participants who were less susceptible to distraction showed a more consistent, albeit more moderate, level of activity in IPS and TPJ. The present results thus provide new evidence regarding the neural mechanisms underlying distraction and resistance to it.

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