Yes, directory links can, to a certain extent, contribute to higher ranking positions on search engines for the targeted key terms.
Since the links you get are from SEO-friendly directories, they can be detected by the search engines. Search engines place greater value on those links that are placed under relevant categories.
Since directories also allow you to choose your link/anchor text, this can help in getting your site recognized for those target terms. This will also help your website rank high in the search engines for the relevant search terms.