This nytimes article describes an experiment in which
1) In front of chimps, human researchers demonstrate opening a box, but they throw in some unnecessary steps. The box is constructed so that an onlooker can figure out which steps are unnecessary just by watching. The chimps learn to open the box, but skip the unnecessary steps.
2) In front of human children, the researchers do the same thing. The children learn to open the box, but are careful to do exactly what the demonstrator did, including the unnecessary steps.
The children’s awareness of which steps were unnecessary in condition (4) is shown by having some children who do not get to see a demonstration of how to open the box. These children are able to figure out how to open it (without the unnecessary steps, of course).
Thus, human children, as compared to chimps, are more likely to imitate exactly what they see.
Victoria Horner, Andrew Whiten. Causal knowledge and imitation/emulation switching in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens), Animal Cognition, Volume 8, Issue 3, Jul 2005, Pages 164 – 181