Selective attention prioritizes information that is relevant to behavioral goals. Previous studies have shown that attended visual information is processed and represented more efficiently, but distracting visual information is not fully suppressed, and may also continue to be represented in the brain. In natural vision, to-be-attended and to-be-ignored objects may be present simultaneously in the scene. Understanding precisely how each is represented in the visual system, and how these neural representations evolve over time, remains a key goal in cognitive neuroscience. In this study, we recorded EEG while participants performed a cued object-based attention task that involved attending to target objects and ignoring simultaneously presented and spatially overlapping distractor objects. We performed support vector machine classification on the stimulus-evoked EEG data to separately track the temporal dynamics of target and distractor representations. We found that (1) both target and distractor objects were decodable during the early phase of object processing (∼100 msec to ∼200 msec after target onset), and (2) the representations of both objects were sustained over time, remaining decodable above chance until ∼1000-msec latency. However, (3) the distractor object information faded significantly beginning after about 300-msec latency. These findings provide information about the fate of attended and ignored visual information in complex scene perception.

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