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The droids in Star Wars have distinctive personalities. R2-D2 is bold and confident, C3PO is cowardly and a sycophant, EV-9D9 is sadistic, etc...

Are these personality traits designed in wholesale when the droids are made or do they develop as the droids experience "life"?

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    Large scale strokes seem to be generic (R2 units have fairly similar personalities unit to unit, e.g. D2, Whistler, etc..). Specific personality quirks are probably influenced by environment. Not many protocol droids get run through battles and adventures. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 11 '13 at 12:54
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    In the real universe, where do humans get their personality? – bitmask Oct 11 '13 at 13:12
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    Each of the personalities you describe are in line with the original jobs they were designed for. A protocol droid should be sycophantic, an R2 droid should be fearless, and an interrogation unit should be a little sadistic. – phantom42 Oct 11 '13 at 13:43
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    @phantom42 I agree but is there any canon that indicates that is because they had those personalities built in or because they developed those personalities as they learned their jobs? – DQdlM Oct 11 '13 at 13:57
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    “‘Thank you the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation,’ said Marvin and trudged desolately up the gleaming curved corridor that stretched out before them. ‘Let's build robots with Genuine People Personalities, they said. So they tried it out with me. I'm a personality prototype. You can tell can't you?’” – b_jonas Oct 19 '13 at 18:59
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There are two conditions for a droid to develop a personality. The first is a Heuristic Processor, which is an advanced processor that allowed a droid to learn as it worked, as opposed to needing complete programming, this is the piece that allowed a droid to act as an AI as opposed to acting as a computer. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Heuristic_processor

The second piece is called Metaprogramming, and is what allowed a droid to alter its own code in order to better adapt to its environment. So, it is perfectly reasonable that a droid that hung around with murderers and killed people would develop a matching personality. Granted, just like with humans, it was always hard to tell exactly how a droid's metaprogramming would turn out, especially with the decision logic of a heuristic processor. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Metaprogramming

This, in turn, is what led to memory wipes on droids. When coupled together, metaprogramming and heuristic processors could result in a droid that deviated severely from its initial programming design and may even start to behave in a way contrary to its purpose. To that end, they would wipe out a droid's memory and reset it to factory settings, thus clearing out all but their baseline personality. (3PO units, as protocol droids are designed to be subservient, hence C-3PO retaining his personality despite his memory wipe at the end of Ep 3. As for R2, he's never had a memory wipe) http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Memory_wipe

TL;DR; Many droids can alter their own programming and learn from experience, this causes them to start acting in ways different from the 'baseline' giving rise to what we would call 'personality'

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I'm going to make an unsubstantiated guess that droid brains smart enough to deal with messy biological species are going to adapt to their environment over time, leading to customized ways of dealing with their surroundings.

Also known as quirks and personality ;-) as compared to the baseline, or memory wiped units.

Secondly, maybe a brain sometimes get contaminated in manufacturing and become prone to this drift?

At the very outside, at Star Tours in Disneyland the talkative droid gets all uppity after a while of being left on and control shuts him down for a memory wipe. He comes back boring and eventually reverts to uppity.

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