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Lemelson-MIT Study Shows Many Americans
Feel Most Creative in the Car

Cambridge, MA, January 12, 2005 — Don’t think of your commute as being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic; think of it as a potential breeding ground for your next creative breakthrough! Nearly 20 percent of American adults say they think most creatively in their cars, according to the 2005 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index study, which gauges Americans’ attitudes toward invention and innovation.

Survey respondents also said the ideal conditions for their creative thinking were solitude (66 percent) and quiet (47 percent).

“Many Americans feel they spend half their lives in the car, but we were surprised by just how many people felt their daily commute was conducive to creative thinking,” Lemelson-MIT Program Director Merton Flemings said. “But when you stop to think about it, it makes sense. Daily commutes in this country are getting longer each year and the car may be one of the last environments in which we can escape from our over-stimulated lives and just be alone with our thoughts.”

At the 2004 Lemelson-MIT Invention Assembly, a gathering of the nation’s top academics and inventors concluded that this type of “time and ‘space’ to reflect are essential to invention.”

Supporting this idea, other settings that fared well in the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index question were workplaces and schools (20 percent); in bed while falling asleep, waking up or dreaming (16 percent); and outdoors (14 percent). Survey respondents also cited the bath or shower (5 percent) and while exercising (5 percent) as settings that spark their creativity.

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By contrast, watching television (2 percent) and listening to music (1 percent) were the least likely to lead to creative thoughts.

Americans spend more than 1,000 hours each year, or 11 percent of the year, in front of television sets, according to a 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics report. By contrast, Americans spend an average 260 hours each year commuting, according to a 2004 U.S. Census study.

“Television has an important place in our culture,” Flemings commented. “However, our society faces significant challenges that will require fresh and imaginative ideas. Young people, especially, need to gain real-world experiences and be exposed to environments that are conducive to creative thought. That means turning off the TV every so often.”

Fall Survey Results
Where do you do your most creative thinking?

  • 20.4 percent – In the car
  • 19.9 percent – In my office, workspace or school
  • 15.6 percent – In bed (falling asleep, waking up or dreaming)
  • 14.4 percent – Outdoors
  • 4.9 percent – In the bath or shower
  • 4.9 percent – While exercising
  • 1.6 percent – Watching television
  • 1.0 percent – Listening to music

Choose the response you think best completes this statement: “My most creative ideas come when…”

  • 66.1 percent – I am alone
  • 47.1 percent – It’s quiet and there are no disruptions
  • 32.3 percent – I’m not stressed
  • 24.5 percent – I’m working with others
  • 23.3 percent – I’m under pressure
  • 15.1 percent – I’m competing against others
  • 6.1 percent – There’s a lot of noise and activity

About the Lemelson-MIT Program
The Lemelson-MIT Program provides the resources and inspiration to make invention and innovation more accessible to today’s youth. It accomplishes this mission through outreach activities and annual awards, including the $500,000 Lemelson-MIT Prize, the largest single award in the United States for invention.

Jerome H. Lemelson, one of the world’s most prolific inventors, and his wife Dorothy founded the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. It is funded by The Lemelson Foundation, a private philanthropy committed to honoring the contributions of inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs and to inspiring ingenuity in others. More information is online at http://web.mit.edu/invent.

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