WORLD

Did Leonardo da Vinci have ADHD? Academics say he did

May 24, 2019, 9:07 AM
leonardo da vinci adhd...
A 16th-century portrait of Leonardo da Vinci by Giovan Ambrogio Figino. Credit: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

(CNN) — The Mona Lisa is arguably the world’s most famous painting — and yet, like many of Leonardo da Vinci’s works, it’s also considered unfinished. Half a millennium after da Vinci died, new research has identified a potential explanation behind the Renaissance artist’s series of uncompleted projects: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Researchers from King’s College London and the University of Pavia in Italy consulted historical evidence, including accounts from da Vinci’s contemporaries, and concluded that his issues with time management, concentration and procrastination could be attributed to ADHD.

Marco Catani, professor of neuroanatomy and psychiatry at King’s College London, and Paolo Mazzarello, a professor in the University of Pavia’s brain and behavior sciences department, said the disorder could explain “aspects of his temperament and the strange form of his dissipative genius.”

“It would be historically incorrect to accept the biographical account elaborated by the Romantic authors of Leonardo as a solitary genius who remained unappreciated by his contemporaries owing to his ideas being too advanced for his time,” they wrote.

“His most attentive biographers had always indicated that Leonardo tried hard to please customers that were inevitably left with the disappointment of being denied possession of a concrete expression of his talent. His contemporaries could never understand or forgive his lack of discipline, not his visionary mind.”

The researchers highlighted da Vinci’s tendency to switch “from task to task,” as well as his habit of working continuously throughout the night, sleeping rarely and “alternating rapid cycles of short naps and waking.”

They also noted that he was left-handed, and survived a left hemisphere stroke at the age of 65 with his language faculties intact. Both factors indicate a “reverse right hemisphere dominance for language,” the researchers wrote, a trait present in less than 5% of the population.

Previous researchers have suggested da Vinci had dyslexia, a learning difficulty often diagnosed alongside ADHD, citing spelling errors and mirrored writing in his notebooks. “Atypical hemispheric dominance, left-handedness and dyslexia are more prevalent in children with neurodevelopmental conditions, including ADHD,” Catani and Mazzarello wrote.

“Undeniably Leonardo accomplished more than any other human being could possibly dream of in a lifespan, but one wonders what would have been the impact of his work on history if he had managed to apply himself more consistently to his art and effectively disseminate his intuitions and discoveries,” they concluded.

Louise Theodosiou, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, told CNN that previous studies have linked ADHD with enhanced creativity. “While a symptom of ADHD is difficulty concentrating, people with ADHD can also focus intensely to the exclusion of all else on a narrow area,” she said.

“This combined with the fact that people with ADHD may take risks or think outside the box can intensify creativity and productivity.”

Highlighting positive characteristics associated with ADHD could help to challenge “negative perceptions” of the disorder, Theodosiou said. “Da Vinci is a positive and highly regarded figure whom people are likely to be keen to be compared to.

“However it is of note that there may be many people with ADHD who do not possess obvious creative skills,” she added. “Thus it is possible that for a minority of people with ADHD, this may be another way in which they feel that they fail.”

Graeme Fairchild, from the University of Bath’s department of psychology, told CNN that the new research demonstrates that “people with ADHD can still be incredibly talented and productive, even though they might have symptoms or behaviors that lead to impairment such as restlessness, poor organizational skills, forgetfulness and inability to finish things they start.”

The research could also challenge the misconception of ADHD as a condition only experienced in childhood, he said. “For many people, ADHD is a lifelong condition rather than something they grow out of, and it certainly sounds like Leonardo da Vinci had major problems in many of these areas throughout his life.”

However, Fairchild challenged the researchers’ suggestion that da Vinci’s work was hindered by his possible ADHD. “Maybe the restlessness, energy and creativity that came with his ADHD explains why he achieved so much in so many different fields, even if he often didn’t finish the things he started,” he said.

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

World

Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
2 days ago
A technician works on a component of Rocket Lab's Electron rocket ahead of the launch on the Mahia ...
NICK PERRY Associated Press

NASA hopes New Zealand launch will pave way for moon landing

The mission came together relatively quickly and cheaply for NASA, with the total mission cost put at $32.7 million.
5 days ago
...
Tim Lister, Julia Kesaieva, Salma Abdelaziz, Pierre Bairin and Jeevan Ravindran, CNN

Russian missiles hit Kyiv as G7 summit begins in Europe

G7 summit begins in Germany, as Russia hits Kyiv with a series of missile attacks.
7 days ago
A fighter in a tank in Ukraine....
ANDREA ROSA and JAMEY KEATEN Associated Press

Men, morale, munitions: Russia’s Ukraine war faces long slog

Over the weekend, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned the war could last years and warned of "Ukraine fatigue" abroad.
13 days ago
supermoon photos...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Supermoon delights skygazers around the globe

The moon reached its full stage Tuesday during a phenomenon known as a supermoon because of its proximity to Earth. It's also known as the "Strawberry Moon."
18 days ago
President Joe Biden. He will visit Israel and Saudi Arabia in July....
AAMER MADHANI and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden to visit Israel and ‘pariah’ Saudi Arabia next month

The decision to pay a call on Saudi leaders comes after Biden as a Democratic presidential candidate branded the kingdom a "pariah."
19 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Did Leonardo da Vinci have ADHD? Academics say he did