Current models of perceptual decision-making assume that choices are made after evidence in favor of an alternative accumulates to a given threshold. This process has recently been revealed in human EEG recordings, but an unresolved issue is how these neural mechanisms are modulated by competing, yet task-irrelevant, stimuli. In this study, we tested 20 healthy participants on a motion direction discrimination task. Participants monitored two patches of random dot motion simultaneously presented on either side of fixation for periodic changes in an upward or downward motion, which could occur equiprobably in either patch. On a random 50% of trials, these periods of coherent vertical motion were accompanied by simultaneous task-irrelevant, horizontal motion in the contralateral patch. Our data showed that these distractors selectively increased the amplitude of early target selection responses over scalp sites contralateral to the distractor stimulus, without impacting on responses ipsilateral to the distractor. Importantly, this modulation mediated a decrement in the subsequent buildup rate of a neural signature of evidence accumulation and accounted for a slowing of RTs. These data offer new insights into the functional interactions between target selection and evidence accumulation signals, and their susceptibility to task-irrelevant distractors. More broadly, these data neurally inform future models of perceptual decision-making by highlighting the influence of early processing of competing stimuli on the accumulation of perceptual evidence.

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These authors declare equal contribution.