Noise-induced polarization switching in complex networks

The combination of bistability and noise is ubiquitous in complex systems, from biology to social interactions, and has important implications for their functioning and resilience. Here we use a simple three-state dynamical process, in which nodes go from one pole to another through an intermediate state, to show that noise can induce polarization switching in bistable systems if dynamical correlations are significant. In large, fully connected networks, where dynamical correlations can be neglected, increasing noise yields a collapse of bistability to an unpolarized configuration where the three possible states of the nodes are equally likely. In contrast, increased noise induces abrupt and irreversible polarization switching in sparsely connected networks. In multiplexes, where each layer can have a different polarization tendency, one layer is dominant and progressively imposes its polarization state on the other, offsetting or promoting the ability of noise to switch its polarization. Overall, we show that the interplay of noise and dynamical correlations can yield discontinuous transitions between extremes, which cannot be explained by a simple mean-field description.