1. Evaluation Summary:

    It has been shown previously that saccades are obligatorily directed to visual stimuli if they are generated under time pressure, indicating that cognitive control is reduced briefly after a stimulus onset. The present study demonstrates this temporary impairment in cognitive control is present for manual responses, can occur when the conflict arises from non-spatial features of stimuli, and therefore is more general than previously thought. The data conclusively support the conclusions of the paper.

    (This preprint has been reviewed by eLife. We include the public reviews from the reviewers here; the authors also receive private feedback with suggested changes to the manuscript. Reviewer #1 and Reviewer #2 agreed to share their names with the authors.)

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  2. Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

    In a recent study published in e-Life (Salinas et al., 2019), it was shown, in a speeded anti-saccade task, that cognitive control was temporarily impaired immediately after stimulus onset, resulting in many erroneous saccades directed to visual targets. The generality of this phenomenon and its relationship with attention mechanism were still not fully known. In the present study, the author demonstrates an analogous phenomenon in manual responses. Also, it is shown that a similar phenomenon occurs even when the conflict was created by the incongruency between the central and peripheral stimuli in the Eriken's flanker task. Therefore, the temporary reduction in cognitive control after a stimulus onset might be a general phenomenon independent of stimulus and response modality. The results clearly support the main conclusion of the study.

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  3. Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

    This study reports the results of two experiments in which human participants had to evaluate visual stimuli under high urgency conditions (meaning that they had little time to make their choices and often had to guess). Participants responded via button presses. In Experiment 1, the target stimulus indicated a movement to the left or to the right and was itself located to the left or to the right of fixation. In Experiment 2, the target, which again instructed a movement to the left or to the right, was presented at the center of the screen and was flanked by distracter stimuli that pointed either to the same or to the opposite direction. In both cases, the key comparison was between the congruent condition, in which all features pointed to the same response, and the incongruent condition, in which the target and the non-relevant features pointed to different responses. Notably, either of these tasks would be quite easy and mundane in the absence of time pressure; the experiment is novel and informative because urgency makes it possible to accurately track the evolution of the participants' choice over time.

    Indeed, the data yielded performance curves of choice accuracy as a function of processing time (cue viewing time), and the main result was that the curves for incongruent trials were shifted to the right relative to the congruent, and also demonstrated an initial dip to below-chance performance indicative of trials in which the irrelevant features captured attention and evoked erroneous responses. The conclusion from these experiments is that, under high urgency conditions, salient visual stimuli can bias impending motor actions to a much higher degree than in the absence of time pressure. In other words, the cognitive filtering mechanisms that normally mediate how we respond to visual stimuli are transiently interrupted under high urgency.

    The main strengths of the study are:

    - Clear, concise exposition.

    - It generalizes the perceptual capture phenomenon beyond the oculomotor system, to button presses.

    - It generalizes the perceptual capture phenomenon beyond spatial localization, to non-spatial visual features (e.g., shape).

    - It demonstrates that so-called 'urgent tasks' do indeed produce changes in internal state that are consistent with variations in physiological markers of arousal and subjective sense of urgency (e.g., pupil dilation).

    - It suggests that the transient, urgency-enabled alteration of the cognitive mechanisms that normally filter and interpret salient visual stimuli is a general, widespread phenomenon.

    No major weaknesses were spotted. The only minor concern of note was that the language used to describe the results was perhaps a bit misleading. That is, saying that "urgency disrupts cognitive control" suggests some sort of failure or anomaly in sensory processing, whereas my sense is that the phenomenon under study is just part of how perceptual circuits work, and that the transient interruption in top-down control is not a bug, but a design feature that is there for a reason (Salinas and Stanford, Sci Rep, 2018).

    Overall, however, this is a novel contribution that provides deeper insight into an intriguing cognitive phenomenon that is perhaps much more widespread than initially thought.

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