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Critical transitions are observed in many complex systems. This includes the onset of synchronization in a network of coupled oscillators or the emergence of an epidemic state within a population. “Explosive” first-order transitions have caught particular attention in a variety of systems when classical models are generalized by incorporating additional effects.
Here, we give a mathematical argument that the emergence of these first-order transitions is not surprising but rather a universally expected effect: Varying a classical model along a generic two-parameter family must lead to a change of the criticality. To illustrate our framework, we give three explicit examples of the effect in distinct physical systems: a model of adaptive epidemic dynamics, for a generalization of the Kuramoto model, and for a percolation transition.