Two experiments investigate the scope of imitation by testing whether 36-month-olds can learn to produce a categorization strategy through observation. After witnessing an adult sort a set of objects by a visible property (their color, Experiment 1) or a non-visible property (the particular sounds produced when the objects were shaken, Experiment 2), children showed significantly more sorting by those dimensions relative to children in control groups, including a control in which children saw the sorted endstate but not the intentional sorting demonstration. The results show that 36-month-olds can do more than imitate the literal behaviors they see; they also abstract and imitate rules that they see another person use.
Williamson, Rebecca; Jaswal, Vikram K.; and Meltzoff, Andrew N., "Learning the Rules: Observation and Imitation of a Sorting Strategy by 36-Month-Old Children" (2010). Psychology Faculty Publications. Paper 110.