Was Gibson or the Tequila Talking?

Did Mel Gibson mean it when he said, according to a sheriff's report of his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving July 28, that "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world"? Or when he asked the arresting deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

In the first of his serial apologies afterward -- the one that did not mention the anti-Semitic nature of his rants -- Gibson called what he said "despicable" and that he made statements "that I do not believe to be true."

In a follow-up apology that dealt directly with his comments about Jews, he said, "I am in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display."

So where, exactly, did those words come from? (And not just the anti-Jewish comments, but also the less-noted crude aside about the anatomy of a female officer?) Was this alcohol-fueled soliloquy an insight into Gibson's character? Or was it just the tequila talking?

Science, as it happens, has been hard at work trying to understand the how and the why of what everyone at a college mixer learns: alcohol can make people do, and say, stupid things. But does it make people say things that they do not believe at all, that are, as Gibson insisted in his statements, antithetical to one's own views and faith?

Experts generally suggest that the answer is "Nope."

When asked where those vicious words came from, Dr. Kevin Corcoran, a psychology researcher who has studied the effects of alcohol on perception and judgment, replied, simply, "his mouth." Corcoran said comments do not spring from nothing; for example, Corcoran said, he himself would not make anti-Semitic statements under the influence of alcohol.

"I say other outrageous things when I'm drunk," he said.

He added that Gibson "may not fully believe" his statements about Jews, "but they were waiting to be delivered," once his inhibitions were lowered and he was subjected to the stress of being pulled over by the police.

"We all have things that we might think or feel or even be attracted to that we know are wrong," Corcoran said. For example, he said, people are more likely to look at pornography when they drink than when they are sober; alcohol reduces inhibitions, for good or ill.

Alcohol suppresses the prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum regions of the brain, said Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who declined to comment specifically on the Gibson case.

The cerebellum governs motor coordination, which explains the drunk's weaving walk and iffy driving skills. The prefrontal cortex "is normally making an assessment of the appropriateness of your acts," she said, modulating desires and urges. After a couple of drinks, Volkow said, suppressing such impulses becomes much harder.

"Alcohol brings you back into adolescence and childhood," she said, the time before the prefrontal cortex is fully developed.

This leads to a condition that researchers call the "alcohol myopia effect," in which someone who has had too much to drink reacts to immediate cues without regard to consequences or the broader social context.