Updated 03 June 2019

Leonardo da Vinci may have had ADHD

ADHD may have been a factor in da Vinci's chronic procrastination as well as his exceptional achievements.

Leonardo da Vinci's legendary struggles to complete projects suggest he may have had attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a British researcher says.

That's the latest in a series of attempts to understand the genius and work habits of an inventor and artist often considered the most creative person ever known.

Exceptional achievements

The fascination with da Vinci dovetails with the 500th anniversary of his death earlier this month.

In the latest theory, Marco Catani of King's College London said ADHD may have been a factor in da Vinci's chronic procrastination as well as his exceptional achievements. Catani's theory is based on historical accounts of da Vinci's work habits and behaviour.

"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," said Catani, a professor of forensic and neurodevelopmental science.

"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," Catani explained in a college news release.

Da Vinci was likely dyslexic

The inability to complete tasks was seen in da Vinci from childhood.

The artist was always on the go, often switching from project to project, and he worked around the clock by taking short naps, according to Catani, who specialises in treatment of conditions such as ADHD and autism.

Along with being left-handed, da Vinci was likely dyslexic and to have a dominance for language on the right side of his brain, Catani said. All are common in people with ADHD.

"There is a prevailing misconception that ADHD is typical of misbehaving children with low intelligence, destined for a troubled life," Catani said. "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."

Catani said da Vinci considered himself a failure.

Dyslexia does not affect intelligence

"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," he said. "I hope that Leonardo's legacy can help us to change some of the stigma around ADHD."

The study was outlined in a paper published in the journal Brain.

Earlier this month, Dr Salvatore Mangione, of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said dyslexia was probably behind da Vinci's genius. Like ADHD, dyslexia does not affect intelligence, and research suggests people with the condition may be highly creative.

In an article in The American Journal of Medicine, Mangione noted da Vinci was an atrocious speller – a sure sign of dyslexia.

Other recent research suggests da Vinci may have had an eye problem called strabismus, which makes 3D vision impossible. Having 2D vision is associated with dyslexia and skill in visual art, Mangione said.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


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ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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