Developmental Biology - Brain Structure|
Did Leonardo da Vinci have ADHD?
ADHD is the most convincing and scientifically plausible hypothesis to explain Leonardo's difficulty in finishing his works...
Leonardo da Vinci produced some of the world's most iconic art, but historical accounts show that he struggled to complete his works. 500 years after his death, King's College London researcher Professor Marco Catani suggests the best explanation for Leonardo's inability to finish projects is that the great artist may have had Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In an article in the journal BRAIN, Professor Catani lays out the evidence supporting his hypothesis, drawing on historical accounts of Leonardo's work practices and behaviour. As well as explaining his chronic procrastination, ADHD could have been a factor in Leonardo's extraordinary creativity and achievements across the arts and sciences.
"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."
Marco Catani PhD, Professor, NatBrainLab, Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK.
ADHD is a behavioural disorder characterised by continuous procrastination, the inability to complete tasks, mind-wandering and a restlessness of the body and mind. While most commonly recognised in childhood, ADHD is increasingly being diagnosed among adults including university students and people with successful careers.
Leonardo's difficulties with sticking to tasks were pervasive from childhood. Accounts from biographers and contemporaries show Leonardo was constantly on the go, often jumping from task to task. Like many of those suffering with ADHD, he slept very little and worked continuously night and day by alternating rapid cycles of short naps and time awake.
Alongside reports of erratic behaviour and incomplete projects from fellow artists and patrons, including Pope Leone X, there is indirect evidence to suggest that Leonardo's brain was organised differently compared to average. He was left-handed and likely to be both dyslexic and have a dominance for language in the right-hand side of his brain, all of which are common among people with ADHD.
Perhaps the most distinctive and yet disruptive side of Leonardo's mind was his voracious curiosity, which both propelled his creativity and also distracted him. Professor Catani suggests ADHD can have positive effects, for example mind-wandering can fuel creativity and originality. However, while beneficial in the initial stages of the creative process, the same traits can be a hindrance when interest shifts to something else.
"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."
Marco Catani PhD.
Five hundred years have passed since the death of Leonardo da Vinci, and much has been written about him. Leonardo the artist, the scientist, the architect, the inventor, whose genius has been perceived as the allure of an unfathomable riddle. But some of the words written about Leonardo after he died at Clos-Lucé in France on 2 May 1519, hint at a very different man to the one many of us presume to know. 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."
Marco Catani and Paolo Mazzarello.The authors report no competing interests.>
We would like to thank Ruth Richardson, Matt Dawson and Ferdinando Borsa for their helpful suggestions.
M.C. is supported by the Wellcome Trust Investigator Award No. 103759/Z/14/Z. This paper represents independent research partly funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.
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ADHD alters connections important for executive functions and can be visualized with diffusion Tractography (YELLOW) — an MRI technique pioneered by Professor Marco Catani, King's College London. CREDIT Professor Marco Catani, King's College London