Professor: Leonardo da Vinci May Have Had ADHD

Leonardo da Vinci, who lived from 1452 to 1519, is known for some of his great works, like the Mona Lisa and Virgin and Child with St. Anne.

But something many people don’t realize about da Vinci was his struggle to complete projects which he had begun.

According to Professor Catani, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s, Leonardo’s incredible, creative mind taken in conjunction with this tendency to procrastinate and not finish his work may point to a Leonardo da Vinci who suffered from Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD.

“While impossible to make a post-mortem diagnosis for someone who lived 500 years ago, I am confident that ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo’s difficulty in finishing his works,” says professor Catani.

“Historical records show Leonardo spent excessive time planning projects but lacked perseverance. ADHD could explain aspects of Leonardo’s temperament and his strange mercurial genius.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, ”

ADHD is a disorder that makes it difficult for a person to pay attention and control impulsive behaviors.

He or she may also be restless and almost constantly active.” While commonly thought to be a childhood disorder, ADHD can be a lifelong disorder extending into adolescence and adulthood.

The current body of research suggests that ADHD can be caused by genes, low birthrate, brain injuries, exposure to lead at a young age, and exposure to ciagrette smoke and alcohol during pregnancy.

People with ADHD tend to have difficulty paying attention, are hyperactive, and can be impulsive, often acting without thinking through the action or its consequences. People with ADHD often have trouble sustaining attention in tasks, may overlook details, can become easily distracted, and are sometimes forgetful.

Many of these symptoms are present in Leonardo’s life, according to biographers and contemporaries. Even as a child, Leonardo jumped from task to task. As an adult, he’s said to have slept very little, often pulling all-nighters and sleeping only occasionally during the day.

Fellow artists, patrons, and even Pope Leone X reported that the great artist Leonardo failed to finish projects and behaved erratically.

In addition to ADHD, Leonardo was known to be left-handed and dyslexic.

Like people with ADHD, Leonardo was also incredibly curious, which Professor Catani suggests as a positive effect of the condition.

“There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life,” says Professor Catani. “On the contrary, most of the adults I see in my clinic report having been bright, intuitive children but develop symptoms of anxiety and depression later in life for having failed to achieve their potential.”

“It is incredible that Leonardo considered himself as someone who had failed in life. I hope that the case of Leonardo shows that ADHD is not linked to low IQ or lack of creativity but rather the difficulty of capitalising on natural talents. I hope that Leonardo’s legacy can help us to change some of the stigma around ADHD.”

Professor Catani has published his findings in the journal BRAIN

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