Leonardo da Vinci — one of the world’s greatest polymaths — may have had ADHD, research concludes.
Da Vinci displayed many of the symptoms of Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), including:
- Constantly jumping from one task to the next,
- sleeping little,
- and a voracious curiosity.
These are some of the classic symptoms of ADHD, a disorder involving restlessness of mind and body, including constant mind wandering.
Part of da Vinci’s prodigious output in many areas of art and science could have been down partly to his ADHD.
Incredibly, though, da Vinci considered himself a failure — perhaps a symptom of depression and anxiety that can go along with ADHD.
The study’s authors write:
“According to his first biographer Giorgio Vasari, Leonardo died lamenting ‘that he had offended God and mankind in not having worked at his art as he should have done.”
Professor Marco Catani, the study’s first author, said:
“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.
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.”
These is also evidence da Vinci’s brain was wired differently.
He was left-handed and probably dyslexic, with language localised to the right side of the brain (language is localised to the left side of the brain in most people).
All these are common in people with ADHD.
Mind wandering probably fuelled da Vinci’s creativity at the early stages of creativity, although it likely hampered his ability to get projects finished.
Professor Catani, who treats conditions including autism and ADHD, said:
“There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life.
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.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Brain (Catani & Mazzarello, 2019).