Abstract Rock surface and subsurface temperature responses in samples exposed to direct heating (insolation) under natural hot desert conditions reveal considerable variability between lithologies related to differences in thermal properties, especially albedo and thermal conductivity. However, when the same samples are heated indirectly by air in an oven-based environmental cabinet, lithological differences in temperature response disappear and all samples attain temperatures similar to the air temperature within the cabinet. Rates and patterns of rock decay produced in such environmental cabinets may not, therefore, reflect those encountered under natural conditions, where breakdown is related to micro-environmental conditions at the rock/air interface and where rock temperature is one of the most important controlling factors. In addition to implications for assessment of weathering effectiveness, use of only indirect forms of heating affects the determination of comparative rock durability because all rock types are cycled through the same temperature regimes. Because temperature exerts such a major control on rock breakdown through its control on physical and chemical weathering processes, all significant factors influencing it must be included in the design of weathering simulations and durability tests.