On Wednesday morning, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) proved unable to hold onto an impressive opening gain that had been fueled by optimism that prospects for the U.S. economy remain strong. Yet congressional testimony from Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen threw cold water on that thesis, with her commentary on the danger of low interest rates in promoting risky behavior among investors helping send the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite down more than 1%. The Dow's 80-point opening rise was temporarily wiped out, although the average was back up by 23 points as of 11 a.m. EDT. But Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), AT&T (NYSE:T), and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) were beneficiaries of the bad mood, with gains likely linked to their perception as being safer, more defensive stocks.

Source: Procter & Gamble.

In times of turmoil, investors have often turned to the well-known household names of the Dow Jones Industrials for security. With the highest dividend yields in the Dow, AT&T and Verizon attract conservative investors who are drawn to the stability of huge customer bases paying predictable monthly bills to add to the companies' revenue streams. At one point, the two leading telecoms were considered utilities, and the huge capital investments necessary to set up wireless networks and the resulting regular income from those efforts mimic what investors see from utility stocks. Yet Verizon and AT&T both give investors additional potential reward as well as additional risk, with the possibility of growth balanced against rising competition and what many fear could be a looming price war in the wireless telecom industry. The two Dow stocks both rose more than 1% Wednesday morning.

Consumer giant Procter & Gamble also saw a sizable gain of 1%, holding up well in a turbulent market. Last week, Procter & Gamble announced that it would sell its MDVIP health-care network business to private equity firm Summit Partners. Although terms weren't disclosed, the move presumably rewards the Dow member for having set up a massive network of physicians and patients to help promote preventive health care and reduce the need for more costly medical treatment and procedures. At the same time, by selling off a noncore asset, Procter & Gamble should be able to focus more on its consumer products business, taking advantage of growth opportunities both in the U.S. and internationally while giving shareholders the stability and income they crave right now.

As long as the Dow Jones Industrials remains on somewhat shaky ground, you can expect Procter & Gamble, AT&T, and Verizon to keep getting attention from nervous investors. Even though there's no guarantee that these stocks will perform well if the Dow drops, the historical tendency of defensive stocks to hold up well in declines makes them worth a closer look.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Procter & Gamble. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.