SCARLETT Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Watson.

All three have topped recent sexiest men/women alive polls. But what really makes somebody sexually attractive?

After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and no pair of eyes will see exactly the same. What’s more, as we all know, there’s a big difference between thinking someone is handsome or beautiful and actually finding them attractive.

To legendary fashion designer Christian Dior attractiveness was a lust for life. “Zest is the secret of all beauty. There is no beauty that is attractive without zest,” he once said.

While to Angelina Jolie it’s something a bit more gritty. The Hollywood actress has been quoted as saying: “I find flaws attractive.

I find scars attractive.”

What draws us to each other is a question that one Essex academic is striving to answer.

Dr Gerulf Rieger, lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Essex University, has been researching this very thing for 13 years. And his findings from a recent research project into what makes us sexually attractive might come as a a bit of a surprise.

Dr Rieger said: “The commonly- held idea that how typically someone behaves regarding their sex might be expected to impact on their attractiveness is not necessarily right.

“For example, most of us would expect to find that a woman who is very feminine andaman who is considered to be traditionally masculine might be classed as sexually attractive.

“I wanted to find that in my research, because that’s what I believe, but I just couldn’t. My research has found contradictory results.”

So, rather than propping up our preconceptions of what moderndaymen and women really desire, Dr Rieger found that when it comes to searching out a mate most people opt for personality over physicality.

He said: “My research was carried out when I was working in America, so I don’t know if it would be different here in Essex, but I don’t think it would be.”

“Obviously, in other cultures what makes someone attractive can be down to different factors, but, from my research, I found that although we generally will all agree on who is classed as a good-looking person – say, for example, David Beckham – we certainly don’t agree on who is deemed sexually attractive or not.”

Dr Rieger, who is originally from Vienna, in Austria, studied foraMSc in Biological Anthropology from the University of Zurich, in Switzerland, and then a PhD in Personality Psychology at Northwestern University, in Illinois.

He was a research fellow in the Department of Human Development at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York, before joining the Social Psychology team at Essex.

Dr Rieger also found the old adage “opposites attract” is not necessarily true. He explained: “Although I found that although many people will go for someone who is different from them in looks or personality, there are just as many people who look for someone with similar traits.”

As long as Dr Rieger can remember, he’s been fascinated by sexual orientation in humans and finding the answer to what makes us appealing to each other.

“This is fascinating. It’s getting down to what makes us tick – the question of why we find each other attractive,” he said. “After all, this is a basic necessity. If we weren’t attracted to each other, the human race would have died out.”